The uninvited guest

Yesterday, it was brought home to me quite forcefully that, no matter how inured we are as aficionados of the horrific in literature and cinema, when death steals unexpectedly into our real lives we are still shocked and moved. That clash between the fictive and the real is nothing short of seismic, a genuine soulquake that leaves us bewildered and dumbfounded, not to say wondering. More to the point, it illustrates just how tenuous life really is, and also that we all have that line beyond which it all seems to have no meaning.

I lost a very good online friend on Wednesday night, Chris ‘Choppie’ Votaw, a man who was very much on the same kind of wavelength as me. Both of us believed in the freedom of the individual to decide for themselves what they stood for, what beliefs they held and how to express themselves, whilst also acknowledging that tolerance of the views of others is of paramount importance. That we should lead by example, and show others the way forward. Although he was an atheist, he possessed a deep understanding of religion and belief, and how it sometimes blinds us to the truth of the world around us. And when I say deep understanding, I mean he studied it properly – not merely scooting the web and picking bits up here and there; no, he studied for a degree in theology. I would say that he grappled with the basic questions that belief asks, but he also struggled with what religion can make people do. He sought to go beyond mere pat answers – he wanted to get to the very heart of the matter, to witness for himself the pulse that quickens the very philosophies on which they were built.

We met on an online forum, now defunct, many years ago. His breadth of knowledge and erudition were obvious from the very start, and he dispensed wisdom without appearing to do so for his own glory or standing. By his very words he encouraged us to think and to question, even ourselves and our long-standing beliefs. And he always did this with a twinkle in his eye, a ready smile and a humorous remark that would invariably leave you crying with laughter.

More important than all this, however, was that he was a good husband, father, brother and friend. He had time for anyone and everyone, and would listen. He was open, but forthright when needed. He was generous, beyond even the bounds of the definition of the word. When Liz and I got married, he sent over, at his own expense, some wedding presents (some bottles of absinthe and Goldschlager) – and this was at a time when we still didn’t know him that well. This was the measure of the man. He didn’t care that we had never met him – he just knew what kind of people we were and he was showing us his pleasure at having met us. That was a gesture that neither of us have forgotten, and indeed are very unlikely to forget, ever.

This is but a short eulogy – and I am not even sure that I possess the proper words to express my deep respect for this man. I have only touched upon but a miniscule fraction of what the man known as Choppie represented. Words are never enough – it is what I and all the people and friends he ever touched carry in their hearts that matters. There, we know, and we feel, what he meant to us. And, ultimately, what he meant is inexpressible.

My heart goes out to his wife Sarah and his children – I sincerely hope you all gain the strength needed in the coming days from all the love of his many friends. My heart also goes out to the rest of his family. Most of all, my heart goes out to the man himself – may you find peace on your onward journey, whatever Valhalla it is you’ re going to, and, like I have said elsewhere, I still owe you more than a few drinks – and I will always keep my promises on that one.

See you on the other side, Chris!!

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12 Responses to “The uninvited guest”

  1. Sorry to hear of your loss.

  2. Nikki Woodyard Says:

    Thank you for this. I doubt he had no idea the amount of people who cared for him. If he had, maybe all of this could be fiction. I will say I need to thank him. This has opened my eyes to the fact that we all unintentionally take people, and sometimes life, for granted. I intend on honoring him by making a conscious decision to start looking for the bright side and counting my blessings no matter how small they may seem. We lost a good man Wednesday, a very good man.

  3. Gretchen Reed Says:

    Simon, this was touching. Choppie was indeed a good man. And wherever he is, he knows how much we care about him. We will meet again somewhere, sometime. Till then, CHEEERS!

  4. Oh, Simon, I’m so sorry that you lost such a dear friend.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this, I have known Choppie for years, and he has always been there for me when I most needed him! This week has been a very hard one indeed and I lost one of the best friends I ever had! RIP Choppie!!!

  6. Tiffany Bostick Says:

    Choppie was also a great friend of mine. We lived four streets away. He was such a wonderful person. When my husband and I were going through very rough times he helped us. We didn’t have any money for food, and he brought us some. My husband and I both lost our jobs and Choppie was there. He always made sure we had food. I was thinking about going to school but I was scared. Choppie pushed me to go. I am now half way through my Bachelors. It was because of him I have an Associates degree. It is because of him that my husband and I are still together. I will truly miss him. There are many people who have lost a great friend this week. He touched many lives around him, and he will never be forgotten.

    In the words of Choppie…

    Peas Out.

  7. Simon,

    my dear Friend, you found the perfect words to describe Chopster the way I remember him. I just remembered his way of making everyone happy with his jokes, the Thor’s hammer smiley, his sincere, friendly, open, humorous and trustworthy persona. Yesterday, I send him a few words via a personal message on Facebook. Not much, not as warm, touching and well put as you, but what the message contained everything I wanted him to know, though he won’t be able to read it, I am sure he knew it anyway. Six weeks ago, my father died and because I did’t know him very well, it didn’t concern me very much. Chopster cheered me up and calmed me down more often in a few months than I have seen my father in a decade. May he find total, unrestrained spiritual freedom and may we, someday when the uninvited guest visits us, meet him again!

  8. Simon, sorry to hear of your loss. He sounds like he was a good man, and one I would have liked to know. RIP, and condolences to his loved ones.

  9. Simon,
    This is a wonderful post. All of us feel as you do.

  10. Sharon Heard Says:

    What a lovely post, sounds like the loss of kind and caring man… .condolences

  11. Jessica Says:

    Simon, I found this online and was quite touched. Chris is my cousin and I miss him more than words can describe. While growing up, he lived with me with for a short time. During that time, he became my big teddy bear. Chris always had time for me and spent hours discussing thoughts and theories. He made me look at life differently. I looked up to him and I hope that one day we will again get to spend endless hours chatting away.

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