My Friend Keith,
I recently had a very close friend, Keith, pass away. He was 29 years older than me. When I was 16 he took me under his wing and taught me how to free-dive, spearfish, catch fish off our racing ski’s, body surf big waves and live every day as an adventure. When it came to living in the moment and adventuring through life, I had already had a strong influence from my Dad, so Keith came as the perfect, add-on, extra Dad.
I had a powerful realization at the age of 17. I realized that friendship has nothing to do with age, it is totally to do with connectedness – love, shared interests, care for each other. That totally changed me because I realized I didn’t have to get all of my influences from my age peers, I could get them from my interest peers.
It was Keith that made me realize that, as I was sitting in the back seat of his car, next to his son (and one of my best mates), Jason. I was basking in the sun coming through the window, thinking about the incredible dive we had just had and how fulfilled I felt, how lucky I was to have such an incredible group of friends, David and Jon were also in the car. I glanced forward and saw Keith driving and realized that this 46 year old man was one of my best mates. It also made me realize and allow that my 51 year old dad was my best mate.
Through those late teenage years, I regularly adventured with Keith. We were the SLUGS, the (Surfers Lifesavers Underwater Group) and he was our King Slug. We all loved him and answered to his call of “where are we going this week?” These were the most formulative years of my life and I didn’t realize at the time that I was getting one of the most important educations of my life, I was learning from a man who had a set of values that I would later learn would be mine and many others saving grace.
You see, Keith was the President of our surf club, president of the water polo association and one of the biggest players in the local rotary club. In rotary they have a test that they pass all possible projects through.
The 4 question test asks (something like this) –
Does it represent the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Does it build goodwill for all concerned?
Is it beneficial to all concerned?
You see Keith lived his whole life by that test, he quite naturally passed everything he did through that criteria. We didn’t realize it at the time but we were the benefactors of his big picture outlook, because we always felt included, consulted, congratulated and important when we were around him. Through Rotary, he created countless, handmade off-road wheelchairs for poor communities around the world. He did this with his Rotary friends, in his spare time. Here we were thinking that all of his spare time went into us. That is how we felt, like the most important mates in his life.
Apparently at the same time, he would fly into these remote communities to hand out their Rotary handywork, (one story recounted) gently reach down in the dust and pick up a small child, placing him in his new off-road handmade chariot and patting him on the head, saying “there you go mate”. It seemed that when they looked at Keith and saw the care in his eyes, they too felt like the most important people in his life.
He did all of this without us knowing, in fact he did most of what he would do without others knowing and it was always for someone who needed it most. It was just the way he was, he never missed an opportunity to make a difference to someone else and if it was a bigger more challenging one, he cleared his calendar and sorted his other priorities so he could do what he needed to do to help that other person. In a lot of cases that took him away from other things he would love to do but its probably not true to say it took him out of his comfort zone, because he was most comfortable making a difference to someone else.
At his wake, there were dumbfounded looks as people got up and shared exactly how much he’d done. We all thought we knew the length of his giving, but it turns out we had grossly underestimated this beautiful mans ability to squeeze so much giving into one lifetime. It struck me why we didn’t know, because he never sought anyone else’s acknowledgement, the smile on your face was acknowledgement enough. His giving was unconditional.
It was then that I realized why I had cried so deeply 1 hour after hearing of his passing. At first, I had felt totally ok, knowing that he is ok, he has changed direction, he is happy and he is still with us, I haven’t lost my great friend he is just no longer in a body. Then is slowly dawned on me, who he was to me, what mark he had left on me, how much of him had been imprinted on me. I realized he was a major reason why I am the person I am today, why I care so much, why I want to make a difference, why I know no other way to be fulfilled.
As a teenager, all of those years ago, he had made it care to cool, he had taught me to give 100% and include as many people as possible. He has literally taught me to not skim across the surface, but to dive deep and find bigger meaning and more magic and he had taught me that when it gets a bit murky and you find yourself too deep, don’t worry, you have more air left in you than you realize.
It really struck home, it is not what you say or teach in this life that is most important, it the example that you lead, it is the love that comes oozing out of you when you say hello to a friend or invite them on an adventure, it is the undying spirit inside of us that wants to spread its wings and fly with a whole flock of happy geese, that is the most important thing we can do on this planet. Live and Give, the rest is a bonus and ongoing experiment. Some days are diamonds and some days are stone, but when you let the inner beauty shine out of you, your whole life can be a gift.
Oh boy, have I had some good male teachers in my life.
Thank you Keith, my beautiful friend for showing me how simple it is to live a life of purpose and, as usual, leaving me with a sense of adventure and confidence that I can dive deeper than before, that sharks are just pointy dolphins and you can do it all and still be home to have dinner with the family.
It’s now up to us, your understudies to carry those parts on and bring many smiles to many faces and do it all whilst having fun. Thank you for being the best mate a young man could have, thank you for living so true to yourself that became a living legend without even wanting it. Thank you for never stopping loving and giving and finally thank you for taking me under you wing and making it safe for me to discover my inner Keith.
I love you my friend!