Some things can't be explained but there's a beauty in trying. Though I have several brothers, growing up I only made one blood brother. Kelly and I decided that because we were such close friends, we should prick our fingers with sticker burrs from the elementary playground and make a pact to be blood brothers by exchanging a bleeding thumb handshake. At age 11, I made the only friend that I'd ever make such a pact. You see, we owned recess together, flipping and tumbling all over the playground equipment. However, within the year of making our pact, he moved from our tidy community in Houston and off to Dallas he and his family went. I cried. I'd lost my best friend, my blood brother. Shortly thereafter, my family moved to Oklahoma and thirty years ago there were no cell phones or social media applications to connect us like the modern day Jetsons. We lost contact.
Fast forward to the technological age that leads us to more than a decade after Y2K and the growing popularity of Facebook. Bang! I could now reconnect with friends across the globe that I'd lost contact with over the years. I'm not sure what struck me the day that I reached out to Kelly but I searched for him and located him via the social network. I sent him a message and request to become his "friend". Little did Facebook know ... we were already blood brothers. A day, a week, and another went by. I was disappointed that I'd not received any response but thought maybe I had the wrong Kelly or that he was deployed or unreachable. A few of the pictures I could view illustrated that he was a military service member so I was patient. The day soon came and within the month or so, I had a message from Kelly. I was stoked (momentarily)! The message wasn't from Kelly ... it was from his widow, Christina.
My heart sank. I was saddened to hear that he was no longer on the earth with us. I'd never get to give my blood brother a big "bro-hug" and recount old stories and catch up on our lives at thirty-something. However, Christina couldn't have been more open, engaging, and sympathetic to my accompanied loss. Though I could see how many would shrug off this all being trivial, she connected with me and shared the stories he'd shared with her, most importantly confirming the pact that he'd made as playground kid. Given the situation, I couldn't have dreamt of having a more beautiful person, inside and out, to engage. This time, I could at least stay in contact with my new friend from Colorado.
Christina and I would "like" each other's Facebook posts, especially the ones that had us traveling all over the world. Mostly, I loved seeing her blossom again in the arms of another man. She had a smile that was happy again and even though I'd not yet met her, I was elated that she was making the best of life. In early January, 2016, as I prepared for a big trip to trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC), I decided I'd better hit some high altitude areas that could prepare me for the cold and the altitude. Colorado is a neighboring state with over 50 peaks above 14,000 feet. It was a perfect place for me to train. As I prepared my trip, I decided on Pike's Peak and reached out to Christina. I wanted to at least sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk with her if she was comfortable rehashing feelings for her lost husband. When I did, I couldn't of fathomed the emotion that would soon come.
I sent Christina a message and shared that I was coming to CO and that I'd love to meet her if she was comfortable. Little did I know that she was less than ten minutes from where I'd be staying for the long weekend in February. She responded with open arms and asked if I was bringing my daughters on the trip. When I shared that they wouldn't be in tow and that I was training for my hike up to EBC in March, the world stood still. She wrote a long message back and shared that one of Kelly's bucket list items was to climb Everest. She then went on and asked if I was comfortable with the notion of hiking with my fallen friend and scattering a portion of his ashes on Everest. I was overcome with emotion. I was in awe of her entrusting offer. We'd never met. She really didn't know my existence other than the few stories Kelly shared with her and the little we'd connected via social media. It was one of the most moving and honorable requests I'd had. To carry my blood brother and soldier along the exhaustive but beautiful trails of the Himalayas gave me an entirely new perspective for this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
When I arrived to meet Christina in CO, her wonderful fiancé, Scott, was there as well. A little nervous about how this interaction would go, I was admittedly a little apprehensive. How does another man deal with his fiancé's loss, the loss of someone she still was holding dear? She had been letting go for so many years and one way was through spreading Kelly's ashes in places they'd traveled or had always wanted to travel together. Yet, Scott was just as amazing as Christina. His love for a man that was a part of his love's life was baffling, in the most positive lean of the word. We all hung out and talked about love and loss and the way the "coincidence" of the universe connects us all in some of the most unsuspecting and mind-blowing ways. We hugged and I left with a bag that contained a memorial flyer, complete with a picture of Kelly doing a backflip (as we did so many times together on the playground), his ashes, and his favorite hiking shirt that displays the 14,000 foot peaks in CO, reading "Don't trust anyone under 14,000 feet".
When I shared the story, on a few different occasions due to the number of trekkers in our EBC guided group, most either cried or were or certainly moved as I was. I'd made a family ("framily") of 16 friends on the 12 day, 100 mile trek through the Himalayas. Christina shared for me to do with the ashes as I felt. I was compelled to scatter some of my friend from the highest suspension bridge, on the only day it rained. I let some of Kelly's ashes fly into the wind and down in the the Dudh "Milk" River below. A fellow trekker and talented photographer & videographer captured some the moments and I'm grateful for Colin Havey having the compassion and interest to help me preserve the memories. I decided I'd save the rest of the ashes for the day I'd reach Everest Base Camp.
The day we all reached EBC, we were full of emotion. 17 of 17 trekkers on the guide made it! We all pushed and pulled and carried each other's burdens and load. We cared for each other. When someone was sick or without, we provided. Whether it be food, water, supplies, medicine or just the encouraging words or an ear to listen ... we were a unit, spanning ages 15-62 and from all walks of life around the globe. I understood just a bit what it might have been like for Kelly and his brethren of servicemen and their respective units. After being encouraged to take a picture of our accomplishment of reaching the 17,500 foot goal, I wanted to separate and have a moment to honor my friend, my brother, as well as the wishes of his widow. I knelt down and simply spoke some words to myself and to my fallen friend. He'd traveled the miles and days with me. If only I'd have had the energy to do a backflip for him. Yet again, Colin was aware and found me to catch another picture of me spreading ashes. I can't quite explain having the life and death of someone in the palm of your hands.
After spreading ashes, I joined several of the guys who wanted to explore further into the base of the Khumbu Falls. We roamed and laughed and took pictures of some of the most breathtaking views I'm sure I'll ever witness on this earth. We spent a good hour in some fairly treacherous areas before making our way back to EBC and the single trail that would lead us back to our overnight stay. I took a separate route to meet them and as I came back near the very spot I spread the ashes, the hair on my body stood up (hard to do with three layers of clothing). A red bird was hopping from rock to rock just feet ahead of me. It was acknowledging me. It would stop and look up at me and stare. What are the chances a Himalayan Rosefinch would show up at EBC, at the very place I spread ashes an hour earlier? I can't help but believe that it was Kelly's colorful acknowledgement and I'm honored to have played a role something so much greater than me.