Our Friend Hugh
I called him Lama, as in the Dali Lama. If you knew Hugh, you get that. Karen, his incredible, loving and understanding wife, made a remark shortly after his passing that she always believed he was part spirit, part man. That’s a wonderfully true observation and one Hugh would have agreed with, except he would have added that we all are. We have that divinity within us, every one of us. Of course, a lot of us, most of us, don’t know it Let’s go ahead and think about Hugh, and ourselves, through the lens, at least culturally, of the times in which we find ourselves on the blue planet. The song, by Inxis, has some lyrics that resonate, at least with me; “I told you that we could fly, cause we all have wings, some of us don’t know why”. Not suggesting that pop song lyrics provide some deep insight, but don’t you find it interesting that we all are circling the same ideas, over and over? Hugh always reminded me that to know myself was the first order of business, after that you could figure out lots of stuff, things that were formerly a puzzle. I use the word “reminded” because Hugh believed, as do I, that we know a lot of things, we just do not remember. The single biggest reason, in my opinion, is indoctrination. But, that’s a whole big rabbit hole, so I will stop here. Another way to say that is to put some focus and attention on your intentions, actions and watch what consequences manifest. I think it was Isaac Newton, something like “for every action, there….an opposite and equal reaction” Therein lies a great teaching Hugh reminded me of, in varying words and circumstances and, just now, it’s getting clear. Less fuzzy at a minimum.
I first met Hugh 20 years ago, almost exactly if memory serves (unreliable); certainly, within a span of months. We met at what is no longer there, the defunct Denny’s restaurant that was part of the old Walmart shopping center at the corner of Thomas Drive He didn’t remember it particularly, although he had a general idea that he had spent time with a sweating, shaky and awfully guilty lover of John Barleycorn, whose relationship with the world was at a crossroads. That’s almost certainly why he didn’t recall details of initial meetings with folks like me. He understood the energy and focus required to help those he could and knew the finite qualities of human attention. He did so much for so many of us, for so long, he didn’t waste time and attention on recording meaningless details of casual meetings and conversations, many, if not all, initiated by others. He would have had to have an archivist and I’m pretty sure Hugh and the art of archiving would not have played well together. They say everyone gets their time in the barrel and mine was melting down in Denny’s. I take that back, I was already melted. So, there I sat, knocking water off of the table, sweating in the food and so on. I may have hurled in stall 2, can’t remember. Hugh spoke quietly, and calmly. He didn’t say a whole lot, didn’t have to. He essentially just asked me if I would have an interest in getting off the bus I was riding. I would love to regale you all with tales of flashing white light, fire, deep voices and the epiphany. The work wasn’t yet begun but at least I had this cool, put together guy who took his time and helped me. He introduced me to spiritual teachings I had not known of previously, various philosophical thought provoking stuff, the qualities of non-judgement and, above all, service to others. The brutal truth is, I had already been introduced to the blasphemous materials, but I believe he was the first person with whom I could discuss it with and bounce things off of with no emotional blowback. I had a priest friend once who was similar, but I better protect the innocent, although he has been gone 25 years, and leave it there. Words, labels, names and judgements are serious business for some. Lama confirmed for me it was ok to take that left, when the road forked, when everybody else was going right (this is not a political statement). He changed my world, he changed my life. I think he saved my life that night 20 years ago. We would go on to enjoy many long conversations (others may judge it babbling), debates, book reports to each other; really just talking. Before we had the vision not to, we went on golf outings over the years. I told Karen yesterday on the telephone that the only time I ever saw Hugh steaming mad and cussing was on the golf course. The human part of Hugh, like most of us, could not wrap his arms around that thing we call golf. He knew it was beyond understanding. I don’t really play golf anymore, I accept Hugh’s assessment and, besides, I can’t throw an 8 iron like I used to. I suppose that’s progress, me knowing myself enough to stay away from large, open, manicured green spaces.
The only thing we humans have is our time, which frequently presents to the world as attention and our focus, (like they say, “pay attention”). Material things can be acquired and replaced, but not time. We cannot create more time, we get what we get. Hugh gave freely of his time, attention, empathy and love. I join the ranks of what must be hundreds of others in saying Hugh was my sponsor, my guide if you will. If we consider the 6 degrees of separation idea, Hugh touched millions and that’s not counting the matrix like quality of our instantaneous communications. He was a mentor, a teacher, a confidant and most importantly, a friend, (as an aside, he was a husband, a father, a grandfather and so much more). I was always amazed at his service to others and he taught me that to be of service was our highest calling. I don’t harbor any illusions that my acts equal Hugh’s but without his direction, followed by my reluctant reception, I became increasingly aware of things outside of myself. Like that club with the big blue book, all you can hope for is progress, not perfection.
The last thing Lama would want is for my words, any words, to create turmoil due to ideology. He believed, as do I, that this whole right and wrong idea (as in, “you gotta’ be wrong for me to be right”) is simply human frailty and ego. That whole area of thought is way more than we want, or need, right now. Let’s just stipulate there remain differing opinions. My experience is we are all talking about the same thing. Sure, there are arguments of interpretation, but nothing I would consider material. Go back to that thought of our early humanoid ancestors; they drew charcoal pictures in caves to represent that which was more than, that idea of the transcendent and eternal. There is more to the universe than us and more than we can perceive. Specifically, a power greater than ourselves and that is beyond our meager understanding. Let’s call that power God here. Hugh, although not perfect due to his human half, personified, for me at least, that still quiet; the transcendent and eternal thing we know exists, whether we admit it, or not. I am certain there are a lot of people he touched that get this same feeling.
Yes, I grieve the loss of my friend terribly. However, I am also forever grateful that God put him in front of me. In times of confusion and chaos, I could always count on Hugh giving me some of his quiet, confident wisdom and even a glimpse of that eternal quality that manifested in his affect, his presence. Having an “attitude of gratitude” is more than a catchy slogan on the wall. Beginning with that, as Hugh suggested more than once, the doors open to a whole new experience, the depth of which I cannot articulate.
I will miss him, we all will miss him. So, when he floats in your mind as a warm thought, look up toward the sky, smile and pay it forward. That’s him in the wind on your face. Hugh was one of my heroes, one to whom I could look and confirm we are more than petty thoughts, hateful agendas and the all too common human tendency to hurt each other. Hurt doesn’t heal; love, understanding, tolerance and empathy do.
As is my great weakness, I have said too much. In this case though, maybe even I can’t do that. Godspeed Brother. I love you and I will see you in the sky.