If I'm a part of it, it is only in some ghostly, peripheral way, much like an extra in a movie, part of the background. I choose my words carefully here, because I write not for sympathy or to be a character in the play. There are people far closer than I who feel this absence like a hole in their hearts. Any sympathy should go to them.
Yet I have to say this. I considered L. a friend, even though I hadn't seen him in years. We fought fire together in Alaska in the '90s, and we knew each other the way firefighters know each other. We watched the sun circle the horizon during the far northern midnight and saw fires spring to life just days after rain. We fought off mosquitoes and then when the white socks came out, wished we had the mosquitoes back instead. We cut spruce boughs to beat the flames into the wet tundra and knew we could trust each other with our lives. We were not related, but we were all brothers and sisters.
He died yesterday in a four wheeler accident on a village road. From all accounts, his last day was happy, but that's who he was, a man with a smile on his face, a genuinely kind person.
In my mind I line up all of those who are lost. All the pilots, so many of them. The ones lost in fires and accidents, and the ones who decided to take their deaths into their own hands. And then there were the ones who let drugs and alcohol do it for them. If there's another side, there's an amazing fire crew over there. No flames would get past them.
When someone you knew long ago is lost, it feels like you lose part of your past. Since Scott's been gone, I am the only one who remembers the day he hiked up the Desolation Lookout trail as I came down, looking intently at a flower guide and smiling at me. There are flights I took next to pilots who are no longer alive, looking at skies I feel I have to remember because nobody else will. This is the responsibility of the living, to try and keep all the colors of memory from fading to black and white.
L. and I only talked on social media in the last few years, liking each other's pictures and occasionally commenting on an interesting status. From the looks of it, he lived life to the fullest. Goodbye to another brother in fire. You have some good company over there with you now. Rest in peace.