On Thursday I learned that a dear friend of ours passed away very quickly from pancreatic cancer. It has sent shockwaves through our circle. Chris and I hadn’t been in touch for a few years, just due to life being busy. He had moved to Portland to open a new restaurant as their innovative wine director. The last time I saw Chris was in North Beach at Gino & Carlo’s on the eve of New Year’s Eve a few years back. He, my beau and I played pool shared some laughs,a few drinks and a cab back to Noe Valley. It was an encounter that you have with a friend you know you’ll never lose. Picking up where we left off a couple of years before that.
I worked with Chris and a few others about 15 years ago, back in my days of waiting tables. We all opened a restaurant called the Village Pub down in Woodside. We weren’t just friends, we were family before we began families of our own.We hustled at work, we played afterwards and we all had school, day jobs and businesses that we were making happen during the day.
I remember the day Chris came on board. He was so young, about seven years my junior, so earnest learning about wine, and what I remember most, such a bright light. His smile was inclusive with a hint of mischief always in his eyes, as if there was a good-natured inside joke lingering somewhere in the ether. In the afternoons I would come into work and always greeted with his standard greeting, “Hi Beautiful!” and with that came open arms followed by the best hug on the planet. A hug from Chris was an expression of who he was. It’s as if his spirit was reaching through and embracing you, and just for a moment you felt content.
After leaving the Pub we all moved our separate ways, most of us moving to San Francisco. We all stayed in touch, had dinners together, went to see shows, etc. Chris lived in Noe Valley, I lived in the Mission. Back in the day when my office was in Noe Valley, I would see Chris walking down 24th Street or vice-versa. Whenever we saw each other we would stop and give each other one of those fabulous hugs, even if it meant crossing the street to do it.
I watched over the years as he took his seat in who he was, both personally and professionally, all the while, exuding that amazing light. He went on to become sommelier at The Village Pub, then Aqua, then wine director at Delfina, Boulette’s Larder, etc. His dionysian passion for wine was infectious. He was truly an artist and wine was his medium. He loved the experience of turning people on to new flavors and how a particular wine would change the entire meal. But it wasn’t just his wine expertise, it was Chris. Because he just let himself shine, because he truly loved life to the fullest and was open enough to share it with the world, people gravitated to him. He did this even during times when life felt hard, when he felt disconnected. Even though the light was on a dimmer, it was as if his spirit was saying “F-this” and shining it as bright as he could despite himself. This quality is what made him who he was. This is what got him into a better place with his career, his relationships and his life. This quality of shining is what people remember about him. We always felt his light, even when he didn't and I suppose it's why we all feel so incredulous and devastated over his passing.
People ask me what they need to be doing to live in their purpose. Here in the Bay Area we think that we must be doing something purposeful. What I realized with Chris’ passing, is it’s not about doing, it’s about being. We make it way more complicated than it needs to be. I hear about people feeling overly sensitive to other people's energy. I know, I felt it too. I still do, but then I remind myself it is our human nature to feel each other, to experience each other. And yeah, maybe that person's vibe isn't jiving with yours, but rather than running for the hills, just ground where you are and shine your vibe brighter. Maybe that's why they ended up in your field.
What if we could shed all the gunk...or not even wait until it’s shed, but let our light shine through despite it? We each have such luminous spirits waiting to burst out and reach each other, yet we spend our lives hiding behind our tired, old, emotional yuck. For what? So we can reach the end of our lives looking back at how well we protected ourselves?
Chris had three weeks between the time he was diagnosed until his passing. Earlier this week he expressed that he wanted to come home to San Francisco, be with family and friends and have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Doctors warned against it, but Chris did it anyway, following his spirit towards the sweetness of life. He came in Tuesday, to a family home. Surrounded by a close group and propped up enough to see a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, he mustered a "Fuck yeah!". He passed Wednesday night.
Our wellsprings are deep folks! We have the emotional capacity, the strength, the bandwidth to surpass our own limiting imprints and patterns. Sometimes it means digging deeper. Sometimes it means resting and rejuvenating from all the busy-ness. Yes, in our lifetime we get wounded, the proverbial fall off the bike. We scrape our knees, our hearts get broken, we go through loss, we go through abuse, we go through the deep, dark scarys. But the astonishing thing about the human spirit is that we are resilient. The latin etymology of this word, is "to jump, leap". Our purpose in this lifetime is to simply live in our potential, wherever our gifts lie, and let our own divine connection shine through and touch each other. Yes, recoil from the ouchies, then take the juicy, vulnerable, heart-centered leap forward...and while you're at it, calling out a "Fuck yeah!"