I had planned to write about appreciating things you don’t quite understand before I knew what I wanted to say. My message, I thought, would be about appreciating people different from yourself. And then, early Monday morning, my beautiful young nephew, my Godson, was struck and killed by a train, and I found the message.
Chris was a young man of few words with a heart so big that his passing has left a huge sinkhole in his community of family, friends, neighbors, teammates, and fellow-camp counselors. It takes a special person to quietly leave such an unforgettable impression on everyone he touched. Fellow-counselors who knew him for less than two months stopped by the house this week choking back tears. They told us that the children returning to camp next year were all jockeying to get in Chris’s group, and his supervisor said they are going to plant a memorial tree in Chris’s honor at the camp where he worked. Chris connected with people in his own special way.
My sister Jeanie shared a character sketch that Chris wrote about me when he was in high school. If my name hadn’t been in the flattering narrative, I would have sworn Chris had taken up fiction. Yet in typical Chris style, he made his mom swear she’d never share what he wrote with me. Sometimes you don’t know the impression you leave on another person, and Chris left an indelible impression on everyone he touched.
We keep those who pass from this life alive with the stories we tell. A measure of a full life and a life well lived, in my view, is not simply the number of stories, but the passion with which they are told. It’s impossible to talk about Chris without smiling. During this difficult time with family and friends in shock, a landslide of stories about Chris have emerged, stories accompanied by smiles and tears, many followed by hysterical laughing by scores of young people remembering Chris’s life and the happiness he left behind.
Chris was a four-year All Catholic cross-country runner in high school, and went to the state championships all four years as well. Chris ran the Crusader Classic 5K with me a few years ago. Like a good nephew he ran the first mile or so with me until I said, “Chris, you don’t have to run with me.” Chris smiled, said, “Okay,” and went on to come in 1st place in his age group. I don’t think I could have cycled the 5K in the time it took Chris to run it.
Chris would have been a senior at West Chester University this year. Many years ago I would run the WCU track after I dropped off two of my sons at the university. I told Chris that one day I would visit him to share a run on the same track I ran with his cousins, but I let life get in the way and never made it. I guarantee you this, Chris, you will be with me on every run I take for the remainder of my days. Promise.
Life’s short; tomorrow’s not guaranteed. Don’t let it slip by. Don’t keep anything inside. Tell the people you love how you feel about them. It will make a difference. Hug your kids, hug loved ones, hug your friends. Don’t let the chance to share yourself get away.
Chris led a full and meaningful life in twenty-one short years. Fortunately, he left a huge piece of himself that we can carry with us forever.
We love you and miss you Chris, all of us. Aunt Jo, Jimmy, Jason, Danny, Colleen, Gina, Alice, Monty, Jason, Carley, Lucy, and Jane (and of course, Bella.) You will be in our hearts forever.
To read more about Chris and the mark he left on the lives of those he touched go to In Memory of Chris Muldoon.