Excerpt from a eulogy for a friend
I remember the tall slender young boy sitting at a picnic table in a barn courtyard in Denmark. He politely shook my hand before speaking in a foreign language. But when he stood next to me six months later watching a group of riders put their horses through their morning paces, I knew that we would be friends.
He came to the states to escape the anguish of a bad breakup. He never spoke of the breakup, but his pain was palpable as if it were my own.
On impulse I invited him to join me celebrate my birthday in the small house I rented in Italy. We spent a week together in the Tuscan hills doing ordinary things. We shopped for groceries, drank coffee, got lost, and explored the most amazing places. We danced and sang to Sam Smith’s, She’s Only Sixteen, the lone CD in the house.
I learned he grew up on a farm with his twin sister and half-brother. That he was surrounded by Connemara ponies and could jump a full course by the time he was 5. That his mother was a tough old bird with nothing but love for him, his father was absent, and his stepfather was mean.
He told me he crocheted with the girls on the bus to school and that he never fit in with the boys.
He talked about the accident that took his Olympic dreams more than 10 years prior, and how he reinvented himself. He never mentioned the daily pain, but I could see it on his face.
He told me he never forgot a horse’s name but rarely remembered a person’s. He worried about the damage competitive sports have on our horses. And he thought the judges were to blame.
At the end of our week together, a lifelong memory was made, and an annual tradition began. For the next 30 years, Claus visited with me each winter.
Every year, he made the same statement, “this year, we are going to eat healthy”. We made ‘deals’, no eating before lunchtime, no sweets today, no wine with dinner. But on his way to the barn, he would stop at Starbucks, order a Carmel Macchiato and chocolate chip cookie, and then call me from the parking lot to confess.
He started each morning barefoot standing on grass. He believed ‘grounding’ neutralized free radicals and helped with his pain.
He thought about living a monastic life, but he could not face his feet without Italian shoes. He wanted to sleep under the stars but was afraid of creepy crawlers. He dreamt of finding love and getting married but was too afraid to try.
Claus made things better. His voice changed the temperature in the room. He made me believe that anything is possible. I felt my place in the world when he was there.
It isn’t fair that he is no longer with us. It is as if my right arm has been removed with no chance of reattachment. But Claus would not want us to feel that way. He would want us to look back at our memories and smile. And, I will. But just not today.