Wow. I just came home from a celebration of life service honoring a 42-year old man who lost a very short battle to cancer. He was the son of one of my former bosses, and I had met him only once– so I was mostly there in support of his parents.
After this 2-hour celebration filled with stories, laughter, tears and all emotions that go along with those, I feel like I know him better and more importantly heard the valuable lessons of how he lived.
Zach resided in multiple places in the United States over his relatively short life. He grew up in Pennsylvania but spent considerable time in New York City, Philadelphia, Colorado and finally California. He majored in an engineering discipline in college but he ended up studying the ways of Native Americans in the west. I remember his father scratching and shaking his head multiple times over the years when I would ask how his son was doing, and he usually ended with something like, “I’m not sure if he’ll ever settle down and figure out what to do.” Of course his father–a classic baby boomer–was used to the ways of choosing a career discipline and following that discipline throughout your life until retirement.
Ah, but the stories today. The free spirit; the kindness; the sense of humor; the “being present” for people in his life; the choosing warmth, openness and helpfulness over impatience and aggravation; the making everyone that entered a room–even his hospital room at the end of his life–feel welcomed and honored; the singing in the shower and the car; the laughter; the hikes; the honoring nature; the loving animals; the being present for children. I’m not kidding. Person after person (and there were quite a few who spoke) had the stories to back up the character that was Zach.
The last gentleman who spoke was a friend from Colorado. He told us that just before he left for the airport to make the flight across the country for the service, he made a decision to change out of his dress clothes–so sure he was that Zach was laughing at him from somewhere in the spirit world. And, instead he put on a flannel shirt, hiking pants, and substituted a duffel bag and a cooler for his suitcase. He spoke of Zach the way everyone else had but somehow he captured the spirit of Zach in this last quote–from Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader from the 18th and 19th centuries:
Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about his religion. Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place. Show respect to all people, but grovel to none. When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself. Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs their spirit of its vision. When your turn comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
Zach was an accomplished photographer and he had his own blog where he clearly demonstrated his talent and love for nature. You can access his blog here: https://feralzach.com/tag/zachary-e-dautrich/
Many of you know I’ve been aware of red tail hawks flying close above me on numerous occasions in the last year. Well, Zach loved red tail hawks and has numerous gorgeous shots of them on his blog. On the way out of the service today, we were handed a post card with one of Zach’s red tail hawk photos on one side and the Tecumseh quote on the other. Wow. There are messages here for me to learn.
Finally, I will send a note to Zach’s parents to thank them for the service and for Zach. I think his father, in particular, now has his answer about Zach’s calling. It wasn’t so much about what Zach was “doing” that mattered…it was what he was “being” that brought so much joy, respect, laughter and peace to so many people who filled that room today.
Rest well dear SMOG.