Monthly Archives: April 2016

Sean’s Journal: My Birthday Letter to Dad

Dear Dad,

Major Carmon Logan Keyser, USAF  April 13, 1962

Major Carmon Logan Keyser, USAF, circa 1962

I sit here on the eve of the anniversary of your passing. You left us the day before my birthday. April 13 was destined to forever be a day of sad memory and less one of celebration. Then, two years later, your grandson, Logan, was born on the 14th of the same month. As providence would have it, the quieting of your time here and the grief that came with it was redeemed with the joy of his arrival, and Chelsea’s only weeks before.

I am only seven years shy of the age you were when you left us and jetted to the ultimate TDY. Not one of these years has passed without a thought of you; who you were, what you stood for, what you wanted to be, and what you hoped for me—or at least what I imagined you hoped for me.

I think you would have been been proud of me. You would have been disappointed and a bit judgmental. You would have raised your patented eye brow at my choices and offered your Cheshire Cat grin at others. You would have questioned my reasoning and celebrated my curiosity and adventure.

You saw too many things we shouldn’t see. The emotional flak that seemed to burst relentlessly all around you for so many years took its toll and fed the cynic that was sure to mount after seeing all that you saw in defense of us.

As a patriotic teen, seated tightly in a turret, you shot guns that put men down from the sky. Later, as a pilot, you airlifted boys and dropped them over badlands. Many would never again see their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and girls whose letters inspired them to live. You flew secretly in places we didn’t acknowledge. You served—even when the motive wasn’t clear, but the mission was never questioned. You attended ceremonies and wrote letters than no one should have to write and heard the macabre sound of twenty-one gun salutes too many times.

An army of dying cells would declare war on your decorated being. You and and your own squadron of medicine men and gadgets and chemicals fought and then surrendered. In those last days you became a child again. Curious and wondrous. Grateful and regretful. Kind and spiritual.

You greeted your beautiful granddaughter on the day of her birth, in my own hospital, and held her and spoke to her in your broken, but quietly clear voice with the words, “You be a good girl. I love you.” You kissed her forehead and let the next days be your last. Reconciled. Finding fragments of peace in this world of wars.

Logan has grown and has followed you. He graduated college a healer. He bypassed the prestige of OCS and enlisted with plans and a vision of the highest honor to be among the ranks of the most prestigious of fighting men. He has become that man. His legacy of defending this beautiful land is in the best hands.

Chelsea, the little girl held in your arms only days before you left us, fights for those who can’t fight. She listens empathically to stories that wage war in the minds of precious kids and young adults. She combines her learning and her intuition and offers hope through diagnosis, treatment, a kind touch, and words, and prayer.

I woke at the earliest hour. I remembered our time. Tonight I will sit on my deck and quietly meditate on the last days that were good, and too few. I will hold the letter in my hands that you wrote for my first birthday. You wrote it to me from one of those secret places in southeast Asia that would later become an awful killing ground. It never left you. I will think of how Chelsea and Logan inherited some of your spirit when your body resigned. And I will be forever grateful that the years and years of not knowing youDadsLetter - Version 2, of misunderstanding you, of unrequited pride would evaporate in a matter of those last months. Replaced by a round of golf, talks about a good book, revisiting and conquering regrets, and, finally, a gentle goodbye.

I will celebrate my own birth and stand grateful that you and mom chose to bring me in later in your lives (or at least that is the story you stuck to). I will celebrate Logan’s day the day after mine. We will salute you in our own traditional and civilian and loving way.

I miss you, Dad.

“The birds will keep us in touch”

Sean


Sean’s Journal: Personal Best(s)–More Lessons from the Trails

Personal best? The weekend’s rides were a series of little ones—not one overall. Getting to the best part of me as a son, a father, a partner, a businessman, a citizen, a musician, a writer, a paddler, a friend, or a rider, takes training and practice and a little gutsy resolve.

The trails are Nature’s mentor in many ways. Learning where the lines are cleanest and where the roots and jumps can be most treacherous. Constant attention and familiarity reduces risk and offers up a predictably better finish. But taking the familiar and continuously improving on the same path lures one into staying on that path because we know it. Living life, I mean living it, has much to do with trying, and failing, at the proverbial “less traveled.” I am drawn to the unknown. I love it best when the woods are quiet and deep and absent of other humanity, but full of an audience of wildlife whose bleachers are the trees and the creeks and under the logs and around the fallen things.

I rode various trails over the tGoatHillPosterPersBestwo days. For whatever reason, with each approach to the places that offered the safer (bypass) or Expert options, I chose only
the more challenging path. There are times I want to glide and enjoy the maturing of a faster outcome for the whole. But these two days were more about getting a little better at the edges, the hazards, the precarious. It was an attitude. I wanted to explore both new terrain and new potential.

So I pushed. I never clocked my overall time. I did find that my turns were sharper, some of my landings more solid, my acceleration out of the turns faster, and a little more air was under the frame.

Ramp2PersonalBestHippieAt the top of Whitewater’s Goat Hill, I smiled. The burn in my thighs was matched by a rapid pulse and mild gasps for the Spring air. I tried, and succeeded at single-gearing it all the way.

The next day, on the ramp at Beatty I did what I thought I would never do. I jumped off the down ramp instead of carefully leaning back and sliding through the descent. I landed hard but never lost stride. There is this adrenaline that is rooted in fear at the pull of the bars heading into the jump, then, an equal amount that turns to a rush of “Holy Shit, I just did that.” This chemistry of opposing highs mixed with the familiar racing through clean lines and the known paths made for a day to remember.

A blueprint for life.

Sean


Sean’s Journal: Practice, practice, practice…clear my head of that damned little bridge

What can a 20″ wide bridge over a small creek teach me about leadership and life. Riders ride and train on these trails all the time. There is

BeattyCreekBridge1this one bend that leads down to a short bridge over a tiny creek that, for whatever reason, is the nemesis for so many. I have watched for years and even succombed myself to flying around the bend only to throw on the brakes just prior to the bridge. There are MANY more technical elements on this nice set of trails. But THIS ONE gets in a rider’s head. The fear of not hitting it just center and possibly sliding off to a two-foot drop (not much even if it happened, but would require dumping the bike) is enough to almost give it a nickname.

On those days when I’m not thinking about it–or about the 3 or 4 other challenging ramps or drops–I fly right over it. Then on other other days when feeling less confident and thinking too much, the anxiety builds 1/4 mile away and often results in a redo.

I recently parked my jeep at the trails near the ballfields at the park. I stopped to watch the kids in practice and was taken back to the best times in the best places. The diamonds of my early and late youth. Those proverbial fields of dreams that so shaped me and caused me to love the sport … and all sports. As I watched the infielders taking grounders and the batters taking pitches I was reminded that skill may come naturally to some, but much of the game is about practice. As a second baseman and shortstop most of my baseball career I have taken thousands and thousands of grounders. It built a sense of timing and led to an almost intuitive response to the dance between the ball and the grass and the dirt and the velocity off of the bat. Kids in T-ball or the pros whose season began only days ago have the same routine. Grounder after grounder. Pitch after pitch. Swing after swing. Throw after throw. The result is confidence and continuous skill improvement.

I jumped on my bike and took the shortcut to the bridge. Not a rider in the woods this early evening. A cool breeze swirled around the trees just getting fitted in Spring’s green. The trail’s dirt just moist enough after the weekend’s rain to offer a little extra grip.

I got some speed, looked ahead at the descent and the bridge, took the high route and flew right over it. I had no sooner taken the bridge and the subsequent 90 degree turn uphill that I grabbed a shortcut and headed back to run it again. Two, three, ten, twelve times. With each turn and brake adjustment and gear change this tentative annoying 8 foot stretch over moss covered rock became insignificant.

There are these things in our lives that get in our head. We avoid them or go around them or excuse them away. The rear their ugly self and try and rob confidence. They wake me from time to time and attempt to distract me from the good.

I choose more these days to lean into them. To practice. To take the speedy grounders that hit me in the chest or brush my arm and leave a leather burn and, more often, land in the sweet spot of my life’s glove.

Practice, practice, practice. I will.