Today is the five year anniversary of the death of someone very special to me.
My Uncle Ronnie was no ordinary Uncle–nor ordinary man for that matter.
He was a wild child, an outdoorsman, a fiercely independent thinker, a fiercely loyal and caring friend. In his own unique lexicon he as a “THRILL SEEKER”–always in capital letters, always a complete phrase.
This was a well-earned moniker and described his character and exploits spectacularly. Ronnie was always more at home and comfortable when he was outdoors and self-medicating with potent doses of adrenaline. Better yet, he was most happy when seeking adventure or simply in the company of his dog. (Sound familiar?)
As a student he was often in trouble for paying greater attention to staring out the windows and daydreaming than the lessons. At 19, he opted out of college and opted in for a cross-country 3000+ mile motorcycle trip with his best friend Dudley.
When their bikes refused to go another mile they were in the deeply forested alpine terrain of the Northern Cascade mountains in Central Washington–a land known for Bigfoots and hardly-survivable winters more than anything else… But Ronnie and Dudley were hardy young men and little could quell their determination. They lived over two years there in the woods near White’s Pass breaking local girls’ hearts (Ronnie most resembled a young Van Morrison), revving their engines, taking odd jobs, surviving the winters by relying on an old woodstove in a lean-to treehouse, eating whatever they could kill and taking the occasional dip in icey waters.
Following these barely-survived exploits, Ronnie toured the world building US embassies in Peru, Russia, Kuwait, Mexico City–his favorite stop off was by far Antarctica where Ronnie really came of age and reveled in the snowcapped landscape. It was the place to be for the THRILL SEEKER: penguins, peaks, fur, crampons… What’s not to love? He took stirring photos to record his many beautiful, death-defying and (more often than not) damn lucky adventures. His photograph captured the calm, serene and peaceful world which sometimes eluded Ronnie’s internal landscape.
Ronnie got mighty banged up over the years from motorcycle accidents, rough days hunting, scaling near-vertical topography, hauling canoes around, tussling with bears, tracking down thieves, evading Kuwaity cops, pouring countless tons and tons and trucks and trucks of concrete, fearlessly climbing (& quickly exiting) tree canopies, chasing down his delinquent hound dog, and bagging serious peaks with Dudley well into their 40s and 50s.
In the end it was a 6-year battle with brain tumors that did him in. For a man who lived so hungrily, so fiercely–& yet was such a kind but fervently independent soul–such a debilitating death was a travesty. It was also too soon and not nearly thrilling enough to do his life justice.
Ronnie is a legend and he’ll always be my hero. Without Ronnie I wouldn’t be here–on this journey or maybe not even here… He gave me love and unconditional support; not only that but he was my most vocal champion and the best co-conspirator a “JUNIOR THRILL SEEKER” could ever ask for. He patiently coaxed out my smiles and laughter (if you can believe it, I wasn’t always so freely silly and humorous), he taught me great “Ronnie-isms”/ life lessons (“Lauren, it’s all about your coping mechanisms…“), taught me to canoe Southern creeks and to enjoy the simple pleasures of nature and to value collecting mosquito bites equally with collecting fireflies. He gave me a home and, greatest of all, gave me space to play, to be myself and to be loved for all and anything I wished to be.
I miss him terribly but today over decided to do three things to remember and celebrate this legendary THRILL SEEKER:
1) Go into Chiang Rai and celebrate Song Kran with wild abandon. The traditional celebration of the Thai New Year involves reckless country-wide, multi-generational, multi-day water fights. It’s a holiday that is totally up Ronnie’s alley and in his honor I will be gunning for fresh victims, laughing, running and losing myself in play.
2) Chocolate Cake: Ronnie didn’t believe in denial, at least not concerning chocolate cake. It was one of his favorite foods and he loved it shamelessly, especially in his waning days. I will be making a cake and sharing it (indulging in multiple slices encouraged!).
3) Lighting Chinese Lanterns. These paper lanterns often dot the Thai horizon and carry prayers and intentions aloft. I will invite my community at New Life Foundation to inscribe their own prayers and well-wishes onto the lanterns and send them through the night skies into the heavens.