My Eulogy to Lee
I met Lee Carroll at work. I can't say exactly how long ago it was. The count of years seems insignificant; the count of value he gave to those years is immeasurable.
I encountered Lee one day in a small, office lunchroom. I had gone in with my home-packed lunch and settled down to read a book. I don't remember the title or author; but the genre was science-fiction.
Anyone who knew Lee Carroll would be able to predict what happened next, without my having to say a word. I'll say it anyway: Lee, drawn by the nature of the book, struck up a conversation.
It was an odd pairing, he and I. He was two years older than my father, a man of a completely different generation. Of course, if you knew Lee, you also know that age had no bearing on anything he did, or anyone he welcomed into his life. But there was another disparity, too. I was raised to hold my emotions in check, while Lee was the most expressive, emotive adult I have ever had the good fortune to meet. I have seen him so proud, often of his youngest son—whose name in those first years was generally given over to "small boy"—his eyes would honestly fill with tears of joy. I have also seen him teary-eyed over tales of heroism. Lee was always in awe of heroes, whether their stories involved wartime feats of bravery to save others, or rescues at sea. Lee, too, was a hero, although he would be loathe to acknowledge that fact. it is only right, after all, to do whatever clearly needs to be done, no matter the personal risk.
Lee's life was so full of wonder it always seemed to me I was speaking with a living book. He spoke of events of his past and people he'd met with enough passion to pull me into each tale. And his tales weren't only about his own past. He spoke of ancestors in a family tree that branched far and wide, from the era of King Arthur to the battlefields of the Civil War. He was also a font of knowledge, teaching me about things I'd never thought to learn, such as flint knapping, or the nature of chainmail, or the manner in which Roman soldiers advanced on their enemies in battle.
Lee had a passion for learning. This was a passion he continued to pursue long after earning degrees at Harvard, Cambridge and Tufts, a passion he never lost, he never could lose, and one that would pull people along, encouraging a similar passion in them. I found it fascinating to see that he used all that knowledge in ways every adult I'd ever encountered before would shun. The adults in my young life had taught me that adulthood by its very nature meant no longer playing make-believe, but Lee turned these lessons around. He never stopped making believe. In addition to role-playing games, he went to cons and donned costumes and the personalities those costumes represented. At Halloween, he was the scary man who spoke with cats and served up eyeballs to trick-or-treaters (the chocolate kind, of course). At Greenfield Village, in a con to celebrate steampunk, he was the Sandman.
Lee could tell you how to navigate the sea using a sextant, and why the same methods cannot be applied in the sky. He explored flint knapping as a means of understanding the technologies of primitive cultures. People might ask: How could he use such knowledge; what purpose could it serve? I can only answer by saying this: If knowledge is power, Lee was the most powerful man I have ever had the privilege to know. The world would be a much better place if there were more Lee Carrolls within it.
Lee was a navigator. It wasn't just what he did; it was who he was, as natural to him as breathing. Yes, he had a career as a navigator for the Coast Guard. He also had one as a coach, helping children and young adults to navigate their way through life by focusing on reaching and exceeding their personal best. The literal course was a runner's track, but his coaching extended to the much broader course of life itself.
I have never been an athlete, and I was quite past young adulthood by the time we met. But Lee was my coach as well. More specifically, he was my navigator. He guided me through world building, to help me set the stage for an epic tale told over the course of three novels (never yet publicly shared). He taught me things of history I'd never known before, or forgotten, or had never bothered to understand. And he taught me things of people, of human nature, of culture and society, and politics at its best as well as its worst.
On a personal note, Lee helped me to understand things my father endured and continues to endure as a result of a stroke, because Lee knew intimately what challenges my father faced. Lee never once stopped fighting the effects of his own stroke. He refused to allow the impacts that stroke left on his body to interfere with his active participation in life. His strength of mind gave him a strength of body that undoubtedly left physicians scratching their heads in bafflement.
In many ways, Lee was like a surrogate father to me, filling a role my own father had never managed to assume, a role that made him my teacher, my coach and my navigator. But more importantly, Lee was my friend. I've never known another living soul with whom I could debate the course of humankind. Our conversations ranged from the bizarre to the profound. There were plenty of times when he told me my insights helped him to reach answers to complex questions he'd been unable to resolve; but I know, without a doubt, his insights gave me more than I could ever give him in return.
Even so, I like to believe we were equals when it came to friendship.
In recent months, our conversations were, by necessity, more grounded by realities we could neither ignore nor philosophize our way around, realities of life that simply demanded our attention. Lee was facing life without the love of his life at his side, and my mother was facing the end of her own life. In recent weeks, we lost touch, as I found myself resurfacing from the fog of my mother's death, and he found himself, unbeknownst to me, facing the end of his life on this earth. It could be said that the past year spiraled around us like the outer edges of a black hole. February 7, 2012 marked the center-point, Lee's own, personal event horizon, the day on which he was pulled to the other side. I like to imagine him there now, in an alternate universe fueled by his own, broadly colored imagination, crossing galaxies with Anne at his side, and both of them taking my mother under their wings.
Lee, my friend, travel well. May your journey among the stars sate your soul and help fuel the imaginations of intelligent dreamers for millennia yet to come.
I like to believe the following poem, written for my mother, describes Lee's Heaven as well:
I also came upon this wonderful tribute to Lee that I want to share here: