If someone were to ask you what the defining moment in your life was, would you be able to answer? In my case, that moment came down the steps to my basement in the summer of 1984. I can’t remember how it got set up but on a Saturday night just over 25 years ago I had my first opportunity to play with Chris Kent. In the basement. Of my mom’s house.
Even back in high school Chris was larger than life – both literally and figuratively. I remember feeling awestruck at just how natural it was for him to play the bass and how good he was compared with the rest of us. At the same time, he was never egotistical. Instead, he elevated all of us. We became better musicians just by playing with him. We all recognized we were in the presence of someone with a true gift and he shared it with us without pretense or selfishness. And all the while, he made us feel like we were the best musicians in the world. It makes me smile to think of it.
How rare it is to experience pure and complete joy. And yet, playing with Chris was like that. Sometimes all I could do was to laugh – there just wasn’t a better response. When I attempt to explain those moments to friends I inevitably come up short; my analogies are lame and are met with puzzled frowns. I suppose the best analogy I have found is the comparison to an obscure language and finding a master linguist that is able to hold down a conversation for hours. And this same person also happens to be funny, telling jokes about things like “ketchup milk” that aren’t really funny but you end up laughing anyway. And somewhere in the middle of the conversation you just know that this is someone you’ll want to talk with over and over again.
Some of us spend our entire lives searching for our identity, for that chance to feel like we “belong” and that we are among true friends. For me that sense of belonging was forged with Chris Kent, Joey Seiphers, Rich Ellis, Ted Vieira and Pat Rask in a basement over two decades ago. I probably haven’t told any of them this because it’s taken the events of this last week to actually understand it myself.
Like most of you that are reading this, I struggle for the right words to describe my friend Chris Kent. I wonder myself if I am even prepared to attempt doing so. And yet, here it is, just after 5 in the morning and I feel compelled to try. After visiting with Chris yesterday, I can’t sleep. I hate to admit it, but the motivation is completely selfish: our friend Chris will finally succumb to cancer in the next few days and I am completely devastated.
I talked with my friend Joey a few nights ago when it finally sunk in that we would all need to say goodbye to this amazing man who so many of us have been blessed to call a friend. We laughed about those early years of our musical careers and at how much fun Chris was to hang out with. I remember in particular Joey telling Chris a story about a rock band he had played in and Chris laughing so hard he ran up the stairs from my basement, out the door and on to the driveway. I remember finding Chris rolling on the driveway. It was infectious – my stomach still hurt the next day from laughing so hard. I remember Chris driving that horrible green Chevette, “Gibson.” I remember our first paid gig and the wonderment that we could actually get money to do something we loved to do. I remember the late night board games and literally wishing that those moments with friends would last forever.
Chris, I will never be as eloquent with words as you are with your bass. I will never be that shining example of what a true man of faith can be. I also doubt that I have the ability to influence lives in the way that you have. But I will try. And when my daughter asks me why I cry when I talk about you I will do my best to remember those stories and how a single relationship can change someone’s entire life. I will tell her of your kindness and the way in which you always brought out the very best in all of us. I will also tell her how you freely shared your gifts and your talents with others and how enriched our lives were because of it. You were a friend to many but when any of us hung out with you we always felt like we were the most important person on the planet.
I am not ashamed to tell you that I love you. But more than anything, I want to thank you. For being my friend. For making me laugh. For your smile. For your amazing talent and your willingness to share it with the rest of us. For inspiring all of us with your passion for life and your determination to not let cancer define you.
Joey commented that if any man is destined to make it to Heaven that it is you. I would have to agree. Just go easy on the jokes – I’m not sure if they are ready for “ketchup milk” just yet.