A good friend died suddenly late last week. He hadn’t been sick – he died of a stroke after having complications from minor elective surgery. His death was completely unexpected; he left behind a wife, a two-year-old daughter, four older children, a large and loving family, and literally thousands of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances whose lives he had enriched. Craig was the real deal – a man who had high standards for himself and others, but who had an almost limitless capacity to reach out to people and make a difference in their lives. He was one of the smartest people I have ever known, but he didn’t let all that brainpower get in the way of connecting with people. When you were with Craig, you could feel that he was really there with you. He wasn’t thinking about his next meeting, or only paying half-attention to your conversation. When he asked about your family, he remembered what you had told him the last time he had asked, and you knew he would remember the next time. When he told you about his family, you could feel how deeply he cared about them, and that he wanted to share that joy with you.
I hadn’t seen him for several months, but we often had gaps like that. He was the CEO and president of a local high-tech company, and we traveled in different circles, especially since I retired. I’ve known Craig for almost 20 years; he was one of my first professional colleagues after I left the Air Force, and I worked either with him or for him on and off for my entire civilian professional career. Our paths often diverged, but reconnecting with Craig was easy.
As I sat in his memorial service last night with several hundred other people, including old friends and colleagues that I hadn’t seen in years, I listened to the stories of his life that his family and friends told. It’s often true that we present different faces to the different groups in our lives: one face to family, and a different face to friends, co-workers, casual acquaintances, fellow church members, and the person who serves our coffee at breakfast. The words that flowed from the people who had come to remember Craig all told the same story, though – he was the same man wherever he went. He loved his family, but he loved his co-workers also; he challenged his employees intellectually, but he challenged the church groups that he led no less rigorously. He was a man of deep faith in God, and he lived his principles wherever he went, not like a coat he could take off when it was inconvenient but deep in his bones, an inseparable part of who he was. Observed from a distance, Craig was larger than life – loving husband and father, successful executive, businessman and entrepreneur, spiritual leader, gifted engineer and problem-solver, published author, inventor, loyal friend. Closer, you just saw Craig; not larger than life, but passionately engaged in it, and embracing it with confidence and peace.
Craig wasn’t too good to be true. He had his flaws and dark times, and walked through the fire as we all do. He was insightful about his own shortcomings, though – the last time we spoke to each other, he told me, ” you know, I’ve been an engineer my whole adult life, and I think like one. When I do root cause analysis on the problems I’ve had, I usually find that the root cause is me.” He wasn’t a blamer or finger-pointer, he was a trouble-shooter and problem-solver. If he found that the problem was himself, he didn’t shy away – he just worked to fix it. The longer I knew him, the more he mellowed.
I have some great memories of Craig. I smiled last night when I heard others talk about “Craig-isms” – he seemed to have a rule or saying for every situation. One of my favorites was, “if I have a plan and you don’t, my plan wins.” I never knew Craig not to have a plan. We often used to travel together for work, and regardless of where we went, we seemed to end up at Chili’s (he apparently had a weakness for the lemonade – there’s really no other explanation). He was also a white-board maniac – when we were working through a problem or a design together, we always ended up racing each other to the white board, drawing pictures and building on each other’s ideas. He always seemed to have a new spin or an interesting take, and had a remarkable ability to get deeply involved in the details, and then suddenly step back and look at the big picture. He didn’t let the minutia bog him down – he just kept going, and arrived at the solution when others (including me) couldn’t even see the path.
Recently, I’ve been trying to look at the big picture myself. I’ve had great examples before me – people like Craig, whom I’ve known for 20 years; my wife, whom I’ve known for longer (hard to believe, since she only looks 22); and others that I’ve known for less time but who have had a significant impact on my outlook. I’ve looked and heard, but I hadn’t really seen or listened, and I’d missed much of what their lives and examples were telling me. As I listened to Craig’s story last night, I was reminded of something else I heard him say, another Craig-ism: “If you believe it, say it. If you say it, do it. Only when what you say and what you do match can you be trusted.” Maybe Dr. Seuss said it first through Horton the Elephant, but Craig said it more often. And my wife has been telling me the same thing for years, long before I knew Craig – trust is about your words and your actions matching. It occurs to me that the people I admire the most exhibit this characteristic – they say what they believe, and then they live it. They’re not shy or hesitant about it, and they don’t worry overmuch about what others will think of them. Craig was like this, and so are others in my life.
Craig’s faith in God was as much a part of him as his big feet and booming voice. It came from his family first, from many generations back, but Craig was never one to accept a conclusion without examining the precepts. The engineer in him wouldn’t have it. I did the same thing, but we had different backgrounds and experiences, and I came to a different conclusion. I think the difference might have been his ability to examine the details, but to then step back and see the big picture. I became mired in the minutia, and got hung up on every inconsistency and “gotcha” that I found. I became adept at asking all the hard questions that really don’t have hard answers, and being arrogantly smug when I didn’t get the answers I already knew weren’t going to come. I was hung up on examining the notes, and couldn’t hear the music all around me. I’m starting to hear the music now. It began before Craig’s death, and will continue until my own.
I believe. After half a lifetime of asking questions, not to get the answers but to show there were none, I believe. After repeatedly proving to myself and to others that God couldn’t exist, and even if He did He didn’t care, I believe. Even though I can’t explain it and it’s not “rational,” I believe. Even being afraid that some people whom I love, and who I know love me, will not understand and will worry that PD is taking over my rational mind, I believe. After fighting it, wishing I could, and giving up countless times for almost 40 years, I believe. I’m a little late to the party, but I believe.
I’m still working out the details, but the music is there. It’s faint at times, but I hear it. I may never be able to play as well as Craig, or the many others who have been a part of a symphony I refused to hear for my whole life, but I finally hear the music. Others are responsible for helping me to hear it, too many to count, but Craig and the One he serves get the credit for helping me to say it.