We’ve all lost something before. I’ve lost a wallet and a phone, I lost my dignity once or twice back in college, and I feel like I’ve lost my mind when I’ve lost keys over and over. But the truth is that the day will come when we lose something that matters more… something that we cannot get back.
In the past two years I’ve lost a few friends. I lost them to some rumors that I was too shy and disgruntled about to fix. I let it all unfold before me as I lived across the country, slowly losing my grip on the longstanding friendship.
In high school, I lost my first family member. I lost them to cancer and to Alzheimer’s; they were stolen from me, and as much as I searched I could never find them again. I think of them all the time and I’m pretty sure I run into them in my dreams and in my paintings, but I’ve still never physically found them no matter how hard I look. It’s one of the most frustrating losses of my life.
On the Fourth of July this year we decided to camp at Lake Granby, just past Winter Park and about two and a half hours from Denver. There is limited cell phone reception here, so everybody just slowly showed up with bright smiles and high expectations for a weekend full of water skis and whiskey. Arriving in the second carload, we instead learned that the rangers had broken Teddy’s boat when they used a power washer, and a replacement battery was not even working. There goes waterskiing. But worse than that came our slap of reality as we started to think losing a boat could be a damper on our weekend…
Lucky to have one another, lucky to be alive, and lucky to still be on a lake for the 4th, we drove to the marina to entertain the idea of renting a boat. It was there that I overheard the conversation that sent chills up my spine for weeks to follow:
Marina worker to her radio: “Still can’t find him? Yes, we can get another boat out. Just a moment.”
Radio: “Thank you, keep us updated.”
Marina worker to us: “Sorry, it may be a bit before we can find a boat for you to rent. They’re all tied up right now out there on the lake by EMS. Someone went under a little bit ago and didn’t come up and they can’t find him anywhere.”
We returned to our friend’s boat with solemn faces, not wanting to share the news with others and simultaneously not wanting to face it. We gave the spare battery from earlier back to its rightful owner… and from the look on their faces when we approached, we knew immediately that the missing man was their family member.
Two days passed as we prayed for this man, hoping he was found shortly after, while we camped on a private cove on the far end of Granby. Hammocks, hot dogs, paddleboards, and puppies helped distract our minds for 48 hours until it was time to pack up again.
As the last to leave, I unpacked the boat and carried the last round of soggy campfire-stained clothing into the car. A ranger approached my friend and said, “You’re going to want to get out of here quickly, son. We’ve found him and we’re bringing him up right now.”
His whole family was waiting at the dock, elated that they could pay their last respects and be with him for one more moment, but the air around the entire quiet lake had a chill to it. With the holiday crowd dispersed, all that remained was a family’s last hopes and a few apprehensive strangers in the distance. Myself, one of these hopeful strangers, can do nothing but thank this man for reminding us how precious life really is. One second you’re floating above water, and the next you are stuck below until your last breaths are taken in the middle of a land that you love.
And as a final spin to this story, my friend had found a stray dog that weekend who was lucky enough to join our camping trip until we found his owners. “Little Leo” was taken to the vet on Monday after the weekend was over, where my friend started chatting to the vet about the adventures this stray dog had at Lake Granby. It turns out this vet was friends with the man’s ex-girlfriend, the man who made that weekend as memorable as our rescue pet and as memorable as the circle of people smiling over a campfire.
The Fourth of July is about persistence, perseverance, family, and unity. It reminds us how hard we all fight every day to be here, how hard our ancestors fought for what they wanted even when they were told that it was wrong. We don’t all do what is right, but we do the best that we can. Thank you, Lake Granby, for allowing me to spend a love-filled holiday laying on a calm paddleboard but also for hugging Teddy as hard as I possibly could because we are both above water together and doing the best we can to enjoy every last second of this life we’ve been given.