Tuesday, November 14, 2017

having lived a life of good

There are two types of people who grease the wheels that drive communities.

One publicly pulls all the levels of power and sounds the whistle of accomplishments. You read about them in the newspaper, on their facebook pages, in social service agendas, on church calendars. And, yes, on their blogs.

Then there is the other type. They work quietly getting done what needs to be done. With absolutely no attention called to themselves.

Ronald Reagan used to say: "There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit."

Lee Yoast was that type of guy. I first met Lee just over three years ago when I was drafting an essay on the continuing drama of water and sewer responsibilities in a large portion of Barra de Navidad. It turned out to be a far more complex issue than I had thought.

Lee sent me an email and volunteered to give me a full briefing at his home. And "full briefing" was exactly the word for it.

He had schematics of the entire sewer and water systems in our little community. Where the pumps were located, which pumps were working, and which sewer lines were blocked. All color coded.

Because of his detailed knowledge, I was not the least bit surprised when he told me he had been a custom home builder in Portland, Oregon. The blueprints were a dead giveaway.

But, he did not stop there. For him, a problem defined was merely the first step to a solution. We started going through the possible ways to repair the system. He had been working with the public service employees responsible for the maintenance of the sewer and water. That gave him a lot of insight that I had not heard from other people I had interviewed on the topic.

He firmly believed that the best way to improve the infrastructure was to do what he would have done up north -- get to know the people with the political power to resolve the issue, and then work with them on the solution.

I was impressed. Here was a guy, who could have easily sat back in retirement and let other people deal with an almost intractable issue. Instead, he was willing to offer his expertise in a culturally-sensitive way.

All through our conversation, I thought I had seen him before. But he told me we had not met.

Two days later, it hit me. Lee was the guy who maintained the median strips leading into our town. I had seen him on his riding lawnmower tidying up our common home. Lee and his wife Christine had also erected a sign at the entrance of our village to welcome visitors.

When I approached him about writing an essay about his volunteer work, he emphatically said no. He was not doing the work for praise. He was doing it because it needed to be done.

Last Friday, I returned home and noticed that several flower arrangements were set in front of the welcome sign. It had the look of a memorial, rather than a beautification project.

It was a memorial. For Lee. On Thursday, he was riding his motorcycle north on the main highway when he suffered a fatal crash.

In the few days since his death, I have discovered several other important projects Lee was involved in. All of them important to the community. All of them conducted with silent dignity. And all of them reflecting his love of Barra and the people who live here.

When we are forced to face some of the harder facts of life, we can intellectually accept the irreversibility of time, but the emotional side of our logic seeks answers that simply cannot be provided.

Why? What if? I wish I had. What does it all mean?

Plato tried to make sense of our otherwise-unexamined lives by counselling: "Embrace your losses as fair payment for the surplus of being alive."

That is how Lee lived his life. Nothing could be done about the past, but he could quietly take hold of today and do his best, in some small way, to make life better for his family and those around him. It is a lesson we could all tuck into our lives.

Those of us who got to know you, Lee, are the better for it. And there are plenty of people who live here who will never know what you have done to make theirs a better life. And, I know you would like it that way.

As for me, Lee, I am going to miss you. And think about you everytime I see that sign welcoming visitors to our little town. 

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