To celebrate this year, the day my mother brought me into this world, I opted to do a birthday challenge of a different sort (see last year's challenge: here). This year, since I was working an 8 day shift in the field as a wilderness therapy guide for Open Sky, I decided to celebrate 29 influential people in my life. These people - plus a bonus list of people that I felt disinclined to pass up - offered me a considerable amount, nearly immeasurable, in my younger developmental years - often mentoring me before I knew what that word meant.
To celebrate those people, I have tried to create a list that is not exhaustive, but reflective for me, as to allow a bit of what shimmers about them to shine! In no particular order, as follows:
1) Mom - where would a son be without a loving mother? Lost is what I imagine. From firm boundaries and abounding love as a child, I have grown to know love as a key and solid foundation in my life. You offer more than what a paragraph can truly capture - perhaps a book's worth! Thank you Mother for you! I love you.
2) Dad - always a supporter, you Dad, were the primary reason all my needs were met as a child. Your tireless work in your professional life supported a growing family. And, never can forget the cherished memories of going to watch the Pitt Panthers play at old Pitt Stadium in Oakland. Furthermore, I'm also quite appreciative for the support and wisdom you impart in subtle doses these days. Thank you Dad, I love you.
3) Erica & Ev - my oldest sister and profound influence as the pioneer of the siblings. You and Ev are always welcoming me into your home with your lovely children as I travel back and forth across the country from West to East and back; expecting nothing in return, except the love that flows easily. Ev: forgiving and accepting, even after I, in my immature youthfulness, obliterated your knee tendons and hopes towards one day going tennis pro (never know!). Thank you Erica & Ev, I love you.
4) Stephanie & Rob - while growing up, we were opposite in many ways, but as I grew wiser and out of my dualistic ways, I began to see how your loving contrast could be beneficial to me in my developing mind and life. Rob: perhaps the sole reason I off-shot into the world of outdoor adventure and education. I have much to be thankful for in your big brother-type influence in my life. Thank you Stephanie and Rob, I love you.
5) Amy & Andy - my bestest buddy growing up, Amy you were an intimate source of information and guidance. I can still remember running over to your room to sleep in your bed during thunderstorms in the summer times so I was not alone and scared as a child. You were highly influential! Andy: a charismatic source of understanding and acceptance. I still remember one trip back from North Carolina with you and Amy before the boys were born; I was being an impatient and unsteadying back seat driver, but your tolerance - and practiced mindfulness - seemed to show no bounds. I appreciate your loving acceptance! Thank you Amy & Andy, I love you.
6) Grandparents - What would a young man be without wisdom to learn and glean from? From going to Grandpa Allen's farm in Bedford as a youngster, learning how and where milk came from, to what hard work could mean (and it's necessity to accomplish things worthwhile in life). Learning from Grandma Norma, what respect for boundaries was, and how polite manners furthered a young man in life. To visiting Grandma Carol and Grandpa Bob, first in New York, then eventually in North Carolina. Being showered with love, delicious food, and especially, as I ushered into young adulthood, sound advice and practice in debate and standing firm for what I believe! Thank you Allen & Norma Baker, Robert & Carol Danilin, I love you all.
7) Sid & Jean Blair - my in town grandparents; from Sid taking me into the outdoors to learn and experience the power of nature from a young age, fishing, hunting to learning how to drive and operate a car safely in my teenage years. Jean, a kind and gentle loving person who always seemed to have patience and time to listen, not to mention an understanding for a hungry adolescent boy. I feel so blessed to have been part of your lives; you were a source of budding growth. Thank you Sid & Jean, I love you!
8) Mary Jane & Jake Javornick - Jake the practical joker, rest in peace; always had a wit for humor and a glowing smile on his kind face. Was knowledgeable and able to demonstrate his happiness and contentedness in life. Mary Jane, a wonderful mother-like woman who had the needs of others, mainly unexpressed ones, on her mind. Lovingly engaging and quick to inquire how I was doing. Always was a treat to swing-by the house for a heart to heart chat. I love you both! Thank you.
9) Brad Hill - a loving source of spiritual challenge and exploration in my teenage years. Planting seeds of love and belief in his compassionate actions towards others. A man who celebrated his uniqueness and individuality. This trait about you Brad made it easier for me to learn to express myself as a unique person, too. I attribute my spiritual path back to belief that God is real to you, Brad, and your undying love for Him and others in life. Thank you Brad, I love you.
10) Scott Bair - a strong man, with a deep respect for growth and spiritual exploration in life. Scott, I can remember your emotional vulnerability around myself and the other youth you worked with at Graystone, and the wisdom and patience you'd impart to me whilst employed as a masonry assistant for your company. While the stories are not entirely clear to my memory, the way in which you weren't afraid to share and express what was happening inside your genuine self, sometimes showing tears, is important to me as a man who desires to do the same around youth I work with. Thank you Scott, I love you man.
12) Molly Adams - Miss Molly, you have been a unique opportunity for me to share what I've learned in life to this point. I appreciate your energy as you navigate the waters of young adulthood. Our conversations spur my own movement and growth in life and our friendship from the distance of East and West is inspiring! I am appreciative for you! Thank you, I love you Miss Molly.
13) Uncle Jay Baker - a firm man, set in his position in life, though an Uncle that offers sound advice, often contrasting to what I thought to do. I appreciate the difference of our opinions and point of view you offer to my life. Thank you Uncle Jay, I love you.
14) Dr. Andrew Shim - my first college mentor. I felt truly cared about and engaged in ways that I had yet to experience in my young college years. Andrew, you took me under your wing and saw that I was steeped in experiences that caused me to grow professionally and also personally; developing confidence and interpersonal skills in working with others in the Exercise Science field. I feel highly appreciative towards the mentorship you extended to me - attributing my success in my undergraduate studies to your care. Thank you Andrew.
15) Jeremiah Haas - a guy that became and remains one of my best friends. I knew from the get-go in an outdoor themed graduate school class that Jeremiah and I were two birds of a feather. Jeremiah, you are like an older brother to me; we've gone and will go outside adventuring and you taught me how to lead on trad gear, mentoring and nurturing my growth while caring for my safety. When not outside, we had deep conversations about life stuff - reflecting and supporting one another; I really appreciate you in my life Jerry. I love you man!
16) Nieces and Nephews - a constant source, when tuned-into of entertainment and happiness. I know you aren't old enough to read these words and grasp their intended depth, but I really appreciate the presence of you all (Elana, Elliot, Easton, Adelay, Foster, Atley, Astin, + new unborn baby) in my life. I love you!!!
17) Dr. Walter Kealey, Jr. - a man who has since left this earthly plane, but a man that taught me the value of doing the right thing, even when that was the hard way. I can remember as I was finishing 6th grade, Dr. Kealey, as our elementary school principal at East Pike, gave all the students dictionaries and wrote in the front cover a specialized note for us to take with us into the 7th grade/Jr. High School. I still have mine to this day, and while not having it directly to reference, it was to the extent of always taking the high road in life. An intense man with a lot of love and a knack for discipline, Dr. Kealey was inspiring to me. The way his presence demanded respect from children in the school, to me, is a way in which a young child can understand what it means to adore and look-up to an adult with caring and loving intentions. Walt, I can only speculate what life would have been had you still been alive longer into my teenage years, yet I'm so glad for the ways you were in my life! I love you Walt; rest in peace.
18) Joe Kretchman - Joe, you were another mentor and big brother to me in my young college years. After flailing in college my first year, I found hope and purpose in working and learning from what seemed like your every move at the fitness club. When not striving professionally to learn and grow as I began college again at IUP, you were a person who'd ask caring questions into the nature of my personal life, inquiring how I was doing; this felt especially important for me to be cared for in that post-motorcycle accident space. I was in at the age of almost 21 and it was a dark time for me. I appreciated your continual love and care Joe! You are a source of great happiness in my memories. Thank you Joe, I love you brother!
19) Dr. Scott Drum - my first post-college mentor and friend in Colorado. Scott and his soon-to-be wife at that time, Liz, felt like the sole reason I flourished in Gunnison my first few months. Scott, you had a zeal for your work in the HAP (High Altitude Performance) Lab with the college students at Western State. Your energy bubbled over onto me, and I, too, found myself channeling and expanding my passion - helping others to grow and learn. Just like a lot of my former mentors had done for me! I am appreciative for all the help you gave and care you showed - even taking me into your home my last month and a half in Gunnison before moving for graduate school in North Carolina. Thank you Scott, I love you man.
20) Dr. "Daisy" Waryold - Daisy, you kept me on task in graduate school. Mostly in the form of living in reality when sometimes I'd find myself in the ether, certainly unsure what I wanted to obtain in my time during graduate school at Appalachian State University. Your mentorship, often given in abridged dosages before or after class, or during office hours, was a necessary guide for me to extract what I needed in my time in Boone. I am appreciative for your care and guidance!
21) Dr. Cathy Clark - Cathy, you as well were a mentor, especially during the last semester of my graduate career. You saw the pieces of my potential and a need within the graduate program for a pre-summer teaching institute co-facilitator, aimed at teaching in the outdoors, and the fit was seemingly perfect! I felt quite natural in my role and I appreciated your vision, mentorship in channeling me into that experience, as well as the beneficial feedback you provided me afterwards - further spurring my desire to continue working and teaching youth in the outdoors. Thank you Cathy!
22) Adam Woodrow - mullet boy, an affectionate nickname Adam and I use on one another (stemming from his step sister's actual mullet as a young girl growing up); my longest, best friend. Though our paths cross more infrequently from when we both lived in Indiana, I still feel a strong and tight bond with you. I truly believe that our conversations around life-long friends 5 years ago applies. I see it going the distance man. I appreciate the contrasting viewpoints you have, and the love and care you have for others and me! You are a righteous man! Thanks buddy, I love you.
23) Benjamin Johnson - the big brother who came out of the woodwork! While working at Western State in Gunnison, I was struggling to meet people my age that weren't my students. Ben, while volunteering at a local trail running race, approached and introduced himself to me. He was so genuine and equally stoked to hear about who I was and what I did in town that I felt instantly that he was a special soul from the beginning. When I found out he worked at Western as well, our friendship took off like a rocketship. He was the reason I bought a full suspension mountain bike, the reason I furthered my passion in rock climbing; the person who lovingly encouraged me to take on challenges with less of my mind and more of my heart. A man, who while on a recruiting road trip with him in the Denver area, saw me for who I was acting - a flawed and judgemental mid-20-some-year-old - and separated my personhood from my actions by challenging me to look and love differently towards others in life. I felt your presence in my life to be divine Ben; you helped shape so much and I feel deeply appreciative for you brother! I love you man!
24) Luke Mehall - Luke! You also came into my life near the time when Ben did. Your influence is still blessed upon me today as we live and love in the same town of Colorado together - brothers for the ages. Luke, you also were pivotal in my life - you brought meaning to why writing is important - the storytellers and gleaners of life's lessons writers can be. Our joint venture with the Climbing Zine (see shameless plug here!) gave me this unique chance to help you champion something that was truly unique and worth aspiring towards. And, in spaces not writing related, we spent a good bit of time outside together, taking a few road trips to Illinois learning and loving about much, from women to work and play. Lastly, I attribute your extension of care to me, in the form of telling me about Open Sky, as the biggest reason I am beginning to flourish in Durango. Thanks so much man; so glad you are still a bright and shiny presence (like a penny found on the ground) in my life! I love you brother.
25) Greg "Peg Leg" Simpson - Greg, you like Molly are a chance for me to impart love and wisdom whilst learning, too. Your craving for life and growth is inspiring to me. As I share with you often, you are further along the curve of growth and development then I was at your age. I appreciate the friendship and challenge we surmounted jointly, physically and emotionally, on our Appalachian Trail journey! Looking forward to future adventures with you man; now finish your schooling and make a big brother figure like me proud. I love you man!
26) Eva Paul - Eva, you were a source of spiritual exploration. I felt a deep and intimate connection to you in your shared passion of life's subtle layers. You also were, and continue to be, a little-to-no bullshit type of person. I appreciate that realness about you. I am stoked to have your presence in my life! I love you Eva, thank you.
27) Amber Sherman - An earlier influence in my young college life. You, Amber, were an intimate source of connection about the deeper grooves I found myself swirling in - especially when I feeling in a corner with relationships. Like a sister-brother relationship, we both shared and listened when each other was in need of a deep connection. You, also, furthered my growth and passion for working with youth by channeling me into orientation work at IUP. Thank you Amber! I wish you well with your newest pursuit - raising a lovely, growing child with your husband. I love you!
28) Ryan Halliwell - Ryan! Our history goes as far back and as deep as Adams'. We've known each other for a long set of years and we've maintained a loving, open relationship. I can remember the golden support you showed to me in my post-motorcycle accident times of darkness. You, as well as your brother Peter, were crucial in my sustainable journey out West, pulling some big strings at work to help me secure a seasonal job at the Ritz-Carlton this past winter, not to mention house me in your apartment, too! I have a lot of love for you Ryan; thanks man.
29) Donald Rodgers - Don, you win the honors for the hidden appreciation award. While our interactions tended to be in brevity, there was something settling about your words, your wisdom, and your bright smile - beaming across your whole face - that struck a chord deep within me. I feel most that your acceptance and willingness to meet me where I was at, in order to teach me how to better care for plants and lawns, is something that carries over into my non-plant-based life. Thank you Don for your subtle love and your huge care in my life! I love you.
Bonus list of people I'd feel disinclined to omit:
Seth Tyger, Michael "Fred" Fredrick, Timmy Foulkes, Andrew Kubik, Edna & Neil Lehman, Brett & Anna Heher, Shari Costello, Sue North, David Hutchison, Andrew Miller, Jason Timpson, Sarah Chapman, Pat Mckee, Jeff Reed, John Risinger, Jamie Minchin, Hannah Teagle, Dr. Jim Lancaster, David "Crockett" Greene, David "Lorax" Gunderson, Dr. Madeline Paternostro Bayles, Maura Weaver, Amber Jeck, Morgan Keller, Ashley Burkoltz, Janice Smith, and Matthew Wagner.
With the words and praise of those I have much to be thankful for cast, please, if you are reading this and know this person would appreciate to see how I appreciate them, pass the word along. This, in many ways, could spread like a loving blanket of warmth to offer others the support and feedback that they are cherished people in life!
Love: Tis an infectious bug worth catching!
Lots of just that - love, and profusely abundant thanks to all of you,
Love in a heavy-hitting song: