Anyone who’s seen the remote corners of the news has, by now, caught on that a friend of ours died in an aircraft accident out here in Italy. This pretty much tops off (and takes the cake of) my month of loss. I won’t recap what happened; that can be found here. But I will say that I had somewhat of a wake up to life as I drove home from hearing the finality of his body being found and being with his family. Some say you can die happy when you know that you’ve affected everyone in a positive way and made their lives better or more meaningful. Gaza did just that.
Your wonderful example of leading a fulfilling life got me reflecting on my own life. I’d like to think we are cut from some of the same cloth, you and I. You definitely followed the beat of your own drum and I’d like to think that I do as well… I’ve always admired and respected people who were strong enough to do that. Like you, I loved going camping and hiking, I racked up quite a few skydives in my day, as well as dabbled in rock climbing. I loved hanging around people. But then, years back, I think I diverged from that. As I reflect upon your legacy while looking at myself, I’ve slowly become a cynical hermit.
You were the most fit person I’ve ever met. You could conquer any physical activity with poise. You used this to fuel your love of nature – you consistently found ways to go on adventures through the physical activity that you loved. I want to be adventurous again, like you… and in watching you these past 3 years, I think I have a pretty good coach to get me there.
You had this magnetic ability to easily make friends with people outside our squadron. You’re the only dude I know that came to Italy and truly cared about learning the Italian culture and language. Sure, a lot of us enjoyed the culture, but none of us took classes or time out of our “busy” schedules to immerse ourselves in it. You brought others out of their shells and encouraged them to nature. You actually took the time to know your neighbors and small community. You loved and played with kids that weren’t your own. I want to be magnanimous again, like you… and in seeing all the people you’ve affected in your past 32 years, I think I have pretty good inspiration to get me there.
Gaza, in life you were always genuine. And when God took you back, he slapped me in the face with a wake up call: you are one of the best role models I could ever aspire to emulate. Sorry buddy, I’m not giving up eating meat. But I am going to make a conscious effort to get back to nature, to get back to adventure, and to get back to people from this point forward – and every time I do, the thought of you will always linger in my mind until I can thank you directly once more.
You’ve given me a lot to chew on. Blue Skies my friend.