|Photo Credit: yarnh from morgueFile.com|
I’m trying more and more to have an it-is-what-it-is mentality about things, especially since that was the motto of my dear neighbor who recently passed away after a 14 month struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Bill was such an incredible man. Our family knew him as the master gardener, the nature enthusiast, the works-magic-with-wood man, the genealogy buff, the traveler, the birdhouse maker, the simple man, and the lover of long chats.
However, I also now know that he was an extremely humble and super-duper-ooper intelligent man. Why? Because after he died, I found out that he was an internationally known expert in the field of flow diagnostics with a specialization in the development and application of optical and laser diagnostic instrumentation for use in hypersonic wind tunnels. Yep, that’s right - say THAT ten times real fast! Seriously.
Bill had a BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering as well as a Ph.D. in Engineering. He served on numerous Department of Defense, national and international, aerospace committees. He published over one hundred publications, presentations, and seminars. In 1974, he received the Department of the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award. And, in 1991, he received the prestigious NSWC Science and Technology Excellence Award (Scientist of the Year).
Yes. All of that. The kicker is that he never once mentioned a word about it to us in the eight years that we knew him. We literally lived next door to a rocket scientist and didn’t know it. How about that for humble? I’m almost certain that if I knew anything at all about rocket science that I would have to tell someone in my neighborhood. Plus, if I had earned the title of “Doctor” in front of my name, surely I wouldn’t be able to hide my excitement.
We enjoyed Bill’s humor. We went to
, this past summer and as we were leaving, Bill told
us to be sure to visit Burning Mattress, which was located right above Hot Springs, Arkansas . I didn’t get
it at first so I told him that we would be sure to check it out. I know that he was just a shakin’ that head
at my ignorance as we drove away. But,
that was Bill…still crackin’ jokes amidst the chemo, the radiation, and the
pain. Hot Springs
He had numerous greenhouses and could literally make a rock grow. I hear that he was also an amazing Scout Master when his children were growing up. One of his former scouts commented on facebook about the significant impact that Bill made in his life…that he would not be the man he is today without Bill’s influence. With the background that I now know about Bill, can you only imagine what kind of projects he had those kiddos do? “Okay scouts, today we’re going to talk about rocket science and hypersonic wind tunnels.” Love it!
During his illness, I never saw Bill down-and-out or depressed. If he was, he never let it show. His smile could always be found under that salt and pepper moustache of his. Up until the last few weeks before he died, Bill could be found working on some kind of project in the shop that he built beside his home. He would always give me a big ole wave as I drove by. I feel so blessed to have one of his signature birdhouses hanging in my home.
Bill would always look at the bright side, even amidst his terminal illness. I would call and check on him after chemo and he would say, “Well, at least I’m not nauseated. I’m so lucky that it doesn’t affect me like that. You should see all the marks on my chest for radiation – it’s like connect the dots. And, hey, I still have my hair and beard!”
He would often say, “It is what it is.” I’m not certain that I would be able to accept such a diagnosis in that way…
A few months into his illness, he called up his good friend (and cousin) to write his eulogy. He then wrote his own obituary and planned out his funeral
I admire him
for staring his fate directly in the eyes and embracing it as God’s will. He didn’t seem to be afraid of death like so
many of us are. He had courage. He had strength. I ponder…would I be able to do the same if
ever faced with such a diagnosis?
Honestly, the way I cry and carry on with my blubbery self at funerals,
I’m thinking not. Mass.
During Bill’s illness, I asked our priest, Father Bentil, to stop by and pay him a visit. Fortunately, Father was able to chat with Bill on many occasions. I thought Bill would be the one to get the most out of the visits, but from talking to Father, it was actually Father who greatly benefited. Father Bentil said that his own faith was strengthened by Bill, a man who was able to look death in the eye and not be afraid. Bill told Father that he had lived a very good life and had been blessed in many ways. “It is what it is.”
Of course, I miss him and I know that his wife and family do too. But, one of the things that really touched me was the way Bill spent his retirement. His cousin said that when Bill moved to
after retiring, he wanted to be sure to take all of
his textbooks along. That’s what
professors do I guess, because after he completed 36 years of government work
and 7 years at Jacobs Engineering, he taught at The University of Maryland. You can take a teacher out of the classroom,
but you can never take the classroom out of the teacher, I suppose. Texas
However, his unopened textbooks only acquired dust over the last few years. Why? Because he spent his time traveling with his wife, enjoying the outdoors, and locating all of the branches to his family tree. His family’s story was so important to him.
Family roots. Family history. Family stories. Family is the tie that binds. What stories are we making with our own families?
Bill knew about facts…most scientists do. He knew that facts inform, but he also knew that emotions motivate. Stories are powerful instruments that stir up emotions that motivate us to action. To do things different. To do things better. To make our story the best that we can.
I love the quote that some people have hanging on a wall in their house - “Home is where our story begins.” What will our story be? How will it end? It is certainly up to us to choose the chapters in between. Here’s to making our stories worth telling over and over and over again. Here’s to making the branches of our family tree strong ones.
I miss you, Bill, uhem…Doctor Bill, that is. And, if you can hear me, please tell Jesus I said hello. And, tell Him that I’m thankful for the gift of life…for even being able to have a story at all.
Until we meet again, my friend…