It’s nearly midnight on March 20, as I type this. I’ve procrastinated over writing this tribute for fear that whatever I write won’t be good enough. But then I remember Chester’s criterion for deciding which takes from a particular song make the final cut on the album. Surprisingly, it wasn’t necessarily the one in which he hit all the right notes. Rather, his criterion was (I’m paraphrasing) “Did I sing my heart out?” With this single criterion in mind, I pen this tribute in the hope that if I write something true and authentic, just as Chester remained genuine in his songs, the motto of #MakeChesterProud might ring true.
I love the fact that Chester’s birthday coincides with the beginning of spring. It suggests that we look back on the past several months so we can properly orient ourselves to the coming newness of spring and the celebration of life that that entails. However, before we can celebrate the new life that arrives alongside spring, we must endure the harsh realities of winter.
For many of us soldiers, this day is bittersweet; this is undoubtedly true for me. The surrealistic gravity of Chester’s passing still stings, leaving a gaping hole waiting to be filled. I for one, ended up filling that hole with denial, anger, old bad habits, and depression. I was falling into my hole and life was crumbling and collapsing in on me. It was winter for me; I wanted to crawl underneath blankets and hibernate for the remainder of the year. And yet, despite winter’s biting blast, a seed of hope was planted during that dreadfully dark time, and it is destined to burst forth when spring arrives. Life’s response to the darkness and stagnation of winter is to continue on, heedless of the dart-like icicles that leer down upon it like the proverbial Sword of Damocles.
The turning of the Wheel of Life is inevitable. If one holds out long enough, the gentle kiss of the sun gradually melts the giant mounds of snow into fresh, life-giving water. And so it is with us today. Spring stretches out her warm, verdant hands to us and invites us to participate in the promise of new life. We have tenaciously borne the pain of winter; a time of dark mourning. But perhaps spring’s arrival can transport us into a different type of morning; from dark mourning to bright morning.
I do not believe that Chester would want us to be sad on his birthday. Even if some of us are still mired in the muck of grief (as am I), I bid us this day to consider holding hope in our hearts. Hope for the courage and perseverance needed to face our present hurts. Hope for the future and the inevitable triumphs to come. Hope for our LP family, that we may someday move from a state of hurt to hope. Hope for ourselves, that we remember all the good things Chester brought to our lives: How he gave us words to our feelings when we had none, how he let us know that we were “not the only person with these things in mind,” how he showed us what professionalism looks like, how he was willing to continually reinvent himself and his art form, how he persevered against his demons for over 20 (!) years, and perhaps most of all, he showed us what authenticity looks like. We soldiers must learn the value of hope; for we are too familiar with the tragic consequences of losing hope. We must carry hope in our hearts, for Chester’s sake, and for our own.
In conclusion, I hope that this changing of the season from bitter winter to vivacious spring heralds a renewed sense of hope in all of our hearts. There are those who ask, “What difference does it make? Chester is gone.” To these people, I point to Eleanor Daley’s exquisite poem entitled In Remembrance:
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Chester is not gone; he lives on in our hearts. His birthday that we mark today reminds us of the ceaseless cycle of new life arising out of cataclysmic circumstances, and of the necessity of hope.
Happy birthday to someone who brought us so much light and new life. Today, we celebrate your life.
Chester, we love you.
We miss you.
We remember you.
Until the day I can thank you personally for all you’ve done for me and the LP Family,