In 2009, I made a friend named James while swing dancing. And through the years, even though he was an ocean away, I felt like he was nearby because of social media. A few years later when I was living in Santa Barbara, I received a message from James saying he met a lovely girl who was moving there. So James spent a month in Santa Barbara helping his lovely girl get situated in a new town. While he was visiting, we met several times and further solidified our friendship.
James had the ability to leave an indelible impression on those around him. He was a firecracker of an Irishman with a lively and inappropriate sense of humor. But during that month I also saw a softer, sweeter side of him.
Butters was tormented by James (in the best way possible) when they first met. We were at a dog friendly path, high above the Pacific Ocean. This was the first year I adopted Butters and as a new dog-mom, everything made me nervous; especially letting her go off-leash. James told me to go ahead and release her…so I did. She sprinted ahead, zoomed around and let out her puppy energy.
At one point I couldn’t see her anymore…I looked at James, “See, look at her, she’s a wild animal.”
”Um, you better call her over.” He advised.
“Butters!” I called out a few times. She came tearing down the dusty path toward us, with a dog smile on her face. I put her back on the leash. I couldn’t deal with the anxiety. James just laughed.
Before James left Santa Barbara, he told me he would be in the UK for a couple of years. He said I should visit. I said I would at some point.
Sometimes life knocks the wind out of you.
I thought I would see James again…maybe this year or next. I thought I would hear his Irish accented off-color jokes a few more times.
Last Sunday, as I was checking messages, I heard the devastating news that James passed away. It was September 29, 2013, and James was 34 years old, much too young to leave this world. He had a full life ahead of him surrounded by people who adored him. This is the thing about life. You just never know what it has in store for you.
I needed to find a way to honor James. And since I couldn’t attend his funeral in Ireland, over the course of the week – as I thought about him – I remembered that James liked nature. He liked the ocean…the mountains.
I realized I needed to be in nature while remembering James. So I went camping with Butters and Bambi.
At the campsite, I searched for a way to honor James; to find some sense of closure for myself and to wish his spirit well.
And one night, while I was hiking with Butters, the sky ignited with red, orange, gold…and I knew…I would dedicate this sunset to him.
Dear James, you will always be loved and remembered.