When the calendar rolled over from 2011 into 2012, I had hoped to have a better year in terms of losing friends. As the page turned to March and I passed my birthday on the 5th, I had just reflected on how well I felt the year had gone.
Last night, I landed back in Minneapolis from a short trip to San Diego. I was just a few miles from home and was stuck in a brief bit of traffic when I happened to open Google Reader, thumb over to the “Friends” section, and noticed a new post at Lex’s blog.
I saw that the post was from Whisper, an occasional guest poster, and I gave it just a very brief skim – then my heart stopped when I read the words below accompanied by a photo of the missing man formation.
When Lex “left the keys in it” for me to be a guest blogger here about a year ago, we didn’t discuss what to do in this occasion. I am at a loss. I did feel the need to provide one place for your tributes and condolences to collect.
I knew then that one of two things had happened – either my friend Carroll or his son, a Naval Aviator himself, had perished. Lex had retired from the Navy as a Captain a few years ago and had only recently returned to flying as a civilian contractor flying the F-21 as an adversary aircraft at TOPGUN.
I quickly learned that it was the Captain himself who had died in an aircraft crash at Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada. I nearly drove off the road. I haven’t been right since.
Some perspective here is needed.
I began reading Neptunus Lex not long after he began blogging in 2003. If my memory serves me correctly, I learned about him from Lt. Smash, who sadly no longer blogs to my knowledge.
Over the years, we exchanged a number of e-mails and comments on each other’s blogs around a number of topics. We shared some interests in common – history, cycling, the Navy, technology, and blogging. He was one of the few bloggers that I read on a daily basis, and he rarely failed to entertaining or challenge my thinking with his prose.
Ironically, this week I was in San Diego for the first time in nearly a decade. I normally would have jumped at the chance to try to hoist a glass with Lex but knew that he was at Fallon during this week. I thought of him often as my hotel was just across from North Island where he used to serve when still on active duty.
I was sad that I wouldn’t get to connect with him on this trip – and figured that there would always be another time.
I should have learned when Mike passed away at age thirty eight in 2009 that you should count on there being another time. This is a lesson I’m afraid we’re all doomed to learn again and again in our lives.
My heart breaks for his family.
Here are a few of my favorite writings from Lex:
- Five Years In – a great moment of courage on the bridge
- The Empty Chair – a tradition of remembering those that have gone before us
- The Big Day – when Son Number One received his wings of gold
- Ulysses – on his retirement from the Navy
- The Elephant in the Room – on his daughter’s heroin addiction
- On Faith – thoughts on religion
Update – I had forgotten a few that the group at the wake reminded me of last night:
- Name Tags – what happens when a bunch of Naval Aviators all use the last name of their CO at an Air Force base?
- Beliefs – as opposed to certainties
- The Worst Day Ever – when Terry was killed
- Signing the log book – obtaining immortality
- I’ve met them – about DEVGRU or “Seal Team Six” as they used to be known
- Five Years On – on the 5th anniversary of 9/11
- Pay Off – remembering a jerk, thankfully
- Lady Dying – When we lose a pet
- We has a sad – how pets grieve
- Old Ghosts – on humility and learning to be a leader
There are many others – such as his fabulous Rhythms series, about life on an Aircraft carrier.
His next to last post, Streamer, ended with these lines, which perhaps seems almost a premonition now:
It’s funny how quickly you can go from “comfort zone” to “wrestling snakes” in this business.
But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses.
Last night, I hoisted a few fingers of Bushmills in his memory.. or as Lex would say: “For Strength”.
Fair winds & following seas, Captain. You will be missed.