Some of us have so many stories within our lives that the sum total is like a layer cake.
My Uncle Billy was like that.
Uncle Billy wasn’t technically my uncle. He was the son of my great-grandmother’s older brother. He was right about the same age as my Grandma, so these cousins – both only children, were essentially raised together as brother and sister.
They were of poor Irish immigrant stock, right in Oakland. Uncle Billy’s mother ran off when he was very young, his father eventually re-married. Uncle Billy joined the Air Force young. Served in World War II, Korea, then Vietnam.
He had the keenest interest in the world, possessing a natural cheerfulness and intelligence that he sharpened through his years. He loved technology as well, people. He was interested in things. He was one of the few people who visited me in Macau. He loved Hong Kong.
Uncle Billy hit his head on a shelf one day – the hit, coupled with some type of existing injury, paralyzed him. He couldn’t move from the neck down. Gradually over time and intense therapy, he was able to move some of his fingers, but he was largely paralyzed for the remaining 10+ years of his life.
He took his paralysis in stride. He worked with technology, tricking out his house so that he had access. He was the first person I knew who used voice activated software. He sought, he implemented. He thrived – always. He thrived.
When he died and when I heard this song, it hit me in my heart, because I could so see him, as the song says, free – FREE! – flying, soaring, this beautiful soul that we all loved so well.
I heard the song unexpectedly today and… well, I miss him.
He was – and is – an inspiration to me. His intensely positive spirit. The way in which he smiled and looked right at you and asked how you were. When asked how he was, he always said, “never been better.” And you had to believe him, because that’s how he lived his life.