By Erik Dolson
It’s just weird. News arrived today that I’d lost a friend. I knew him for less than three months and yet, a fog of sadness lays thick about.
We met while traveling together but separately to Alaska. He and his wife Connie, she the epitome of graciousness, motored in their tall and broad-shouldered powerboat “Lori Lee” with frequent guests; Jane and I slipped along aboard my long and thin sailboat, Foxy.
The list of differences is much, much longer than any list of what we had in common. He was the quintessential Southern Gentleman from Alabama, while I grew up an Oregon Boy much in need of refinement. He was a builder who created an empire, first by laying bricks, if memory serves, eventually building hospitals. I just push sentences to their breaking point, endlessly polishing ideas. Grady and Connie were devout Christians who shared their deep faith in the Bible, while my study of religious philosophies led me to distill truths I found in all of them. He was “conservative,” I am “liberal.”
And yet, we became friends, even while disagreeing about almost everything except catching salmon. Oh, sure, there was evangelism involved, an attempt to save my soul. But then, Grady asked me once what to do about a loved one who had fallen into a relationship with drugs. We were both shocked that my recommendation, though wrapped in a message of acceptance and love, was so tough: “Anything you do to mitigate the consequences delays the first day of recovery.”
And the time, when pressed to accept the Word of God, I told Connie that while I did not share her faith, I had the utmost respect, if not envy, for what their faith had given them.
When we disagreed, Grady listened to my point of view and tried to address it honestly. I tried to get behind the curtain woven of words and assumptions, and find what was illuminating his opinion.
Often, it was futile. Even if we agreed on root cause, we disagreed on solution. But there was always a shared respect, and a desire, I think, to find a common ground we could walk upon.
Grady and Connie sold their boat early this year, a difficult admission that they had already made their last trip to Alaska. Connie’s health had not been great, and now, Grady has died three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
As a good-bye gift, Grady leaves me with the question of why we were able to communicate so well, from such different points of view, when those with whom I share values and life experiences seem completely out of reach, brothers with nothing to say. I’ll probably never know.
But thank you, Grady Sparks, for time spent in the cockpit or salon of Lori Lee, exploring different views within shared mutual respect. You allowed me to experience your sense of loss for an America I never knew. You will be missed.