07 March, 2012

Captain, Departed

I first published this in May 2008 when Lex retired. With the awful news of yesterday, I have nothing to say. Only tears to shed for all who loved him. Those words I wrote upon his retirement are even more true today. I will try to write more in the near future, but not now. My heart aches too much for words...

I have struggled so much with what to say here, how to honor someone I am honored to know.

Ever since I first read this, I've debated whether or not to say anything more. Thinking Lex was going to have a retirement ceremony where people would get up and say wonderful things about him tipped me toward the negative on that debate. Wouldn't want to give him a swelled head, ya know...

But here I find out the man is trying to slip off into the sunset sans horse, and so I'm calling him out. I figure I get the chance to say this either now or at his funeral. And I firmly believe that nice things about a person should be aired before they die.

He's not the only amazing person the Internet has allowed me to know, but he's the one retiring today, so he's the one I'm gonna talk about.

When I started reading Lex's blog nearly four years ago, I was so struck by his writing that I sat down and "penned" him a fan letter--something quite out of character for me. Buying into his "old man/back in the old days" shtick, I figured him to be much older than he was, and so told him he was almost old enough to be my father, something that soon became a running joke between us. He responded graciously, and I immediately dug into and devoured his archives, sending emails with honest (but often impertinent) questions and comments as I read. I'd never met a fighter pilot, nor known someone who had devoted his life to military service, and so I was fascinated by a world I'd never thought about before in any real depth.

Well, kissing-up seems the right way to start things off with a pen pal, because I quickly went from adoring fan to humbled friend as we discussed ideas and pondered issues, separated by geography. By email and by blog, his inimitable way with words communicated things I'd never considered, and gave me glimpses into worlds I would never know. I always felt honored that someone of such a powerful intellect and wide-ranging experiences took the time to educate and engage little ol' me, and I thanked Al Gore for inventing the Internet--for without that our paths would never have crossed.

But Lex has been more than entertainment and a naval education. He has taught me about toughness, about honest self-evaluation, and about when to shut up (though sadly these lessons are still not fully learned), and when to let people do nice things for me even though I know I can never repay them. And most importantly, he taught me to ignore the fear and just step out and do it.

The things he did for me and taught me were not life-shaking or startling, but they were valuable, and over time they accumulated into a weighty gift of actions and lessons that will endure.

During my nearly two years of ugly employment when I first moved out here, Lex repeatedly reached past my whining and complaining and challenged me to change my situation. I am sorry to say that I didn't immediately respond to that challenge, and subjected him to quite a bit of whimpering, as I would "lie and bleed a while" (as he often said) for far longer than I should have.

I'll never forget complaining about my job when I saw him the day I got to visit NIMITZ and having him respond by challenging me to question how I could be a better or more savvy employee, and then giving me an honest assessment of what I was facing in future employment. A week later, he forwarded me a very good article about job interviews--"A short read, but worthwhile," was his only comment. I felt the unspoken poke that echoed our conversation: "So what are you gonna do about it, hunh?"

When I finally picked myself up off the floor permanently, ignored the fear, and began to reach for what I wanted, Lex was there to challenge me again. He loaned me the perfect book all about making a career change, but he didn't just hand it to me. He talked strategy, laid out interview scenarios (asked me the tough questions I didn't want to consider, then shot down my inadequate answers before helping me construct better ones), and offered insightful advice on what I was about to undertake.

Fortified by Lex's demonstrated faith in me (why would he take the time if he thought I was hopeless?), and armed with new tools to identify what I truly wanted and what I had to offer, I finally was headed in the right direction. But when I returned his book, he once again had to suffer through more of my whimpering. In response, he perceptively and compassionately challenged me to take the last courageous step I needed to. Having finally learned that it is best to take Lex's challenges, I did.

I now have two jobs and a bright future ahead of me for the taking. And while I still find myself somewhat surprised at where I am and what I do (and where it could all end up), I no longer find it incomprehensible--I know my value and I know my potential. My confidence grows daily.

As I wrote recently, I owe so many people so much for how they sustained and encouraged me these last two years. And standing in the front row of a chorus of amazing people who gave me better than I deserve... is Lex. A wonderful motivator, and a fine leader.

If this is the impact he can have from the distance of pixels and a few lunches, I defy anybody to tell me he didn't leave an indelible mark on the men and women of the U.S. Navy.

Lex, thank you for your service, your sacrifices big and small. Congratulations on thirty years of a life well-lived. I can't wait to see what the next thirty bring you. From my corner, I vote for thirty more years of great happiness and success (in all its forms) that you so richly deserve.

Four bells... Captain, United States Navy - retired, departing.