He was tall and lanky and had dark hair and bright eyes. Brett was an athlete, he had been since he was a boy, and he carried it with him into his 40’s as he continued to be an avid golfer and surfer. We met 20 years ago for the first time when he subbed for me as I missed school one day during my first year of teaching at Camarillo High School, seven years into my teaching career. We remained friends since.
Brett passed away yesterday at 5:40 in the evening surrounded by his family after a brief illness.
We weren’t natural friends–that is, we didn’t spend all of our time together. We had common interests, though and those grew as I got back into baseball these past few years. In August of last year, we went to an Angels game together along with my wife, Sue, and had a great time.
Brett was a funny man, full of laughter and sardonic wit. He was part of “the breakfast club,” a group of us teachers who gather every morning to share a cup of coffee, some laughs and kvetch about the ongoing foibles of our lives in education.
Shannon is a year older than Brett’s daughter and when they were young, during the summer months, Shannon and I would go to Brett’s house and swim in his pool while Shannon and Brett’s daughter did, too. We were dads, we had that in common too, and we would bbq a couple of hot dogs, drink a beer or two and spend the summer afternoons hanging out together. As the girls grew into teenagers and went their way, we both looked back on those times fondly and we talked of them often.
My heart has been broken so many times this year, that it is mere scar tissue holding it together. Brett was 45 years old and had people he loved and who loved him very much. He was lovable and kind–always looking out for others. He kept secrets about himself, that is true, but perhaps we all do at some level.
I remember referring to Brett as “the rookie,” and he continued with that moniker, at least to me, for many years. Brett loved teaching–he loved history and he looked forward to days he had organized and focused lesson plans to share with kids. He liked kids, too. He related with them well and he enjoyed their company. He was good to them and they responded to that. He would often leave early from the “breakfast club” because he had to set something or other up for his morning. He would unlock his room early so kids could leave things in there–athletes left gear, others left unused textbooks or projects they couldn’t carry around all day. Brett was their go-to guy.
Brett was an atheist, or perhaps agnostic. In the years I knew him, we would talk about faith and God and he would say, “I’ve never experienced it–never had the feeling.” He tried going to church, but said “it didn’t work for me.”
More than anything right now, I’m praying that God has introduced Himself to Brett and that He is rejoicing at his coming home.
But for me, the one thing that keeps coming to mind is a quote from the film made from one of my favorite books, A River Runs Through it, in which the Reverend McLean says:
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true, we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.
I love and I miss my friend, Brett Ropes. And I always will.