I 'discovered' Lex back in either 2004 or 2005. I had been blogging since 2004 and was starting to learn my way around the MilBlogosphere at that point. There weren't a ton of MilBlogs in 2004 and really not all that many in 2005 either. Some came, some went. Some stayed. Lex stayed. I think I followed a link from Greyhawk, poked around, was captivated by Lex's style, and never left. He just had a way about him. But I rarely commented because, in all honesty, I felt completely out of my league and nothing I could say would add anything constructive to the incredible conversations there. So (for once in my life) I kept my mouth shut and just listened. And learned.
The MilBlog Conference started in 2006 and I was fortunate to be able to attend that year and the following year. Lex was at the 2007 MilBlog Conference and was on the Live Fire Roundtable. That year proved interesting in that the Army had gone ahead and passed another knee-jerk reaction to what they perceive as an OPSEC issue. That issue led to some quite heated debates over the wisdom of such a decision and a very interesting panel discussion. It was quite civil but interesting, nonetheless. Noah Shachtman from Wired Magazine took a lot of hits during this panel because of his views on the MSM and how it reports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While I did not agree with him on many points, his ideas were his own (big, in my book), and he did a pretty good job of trying to keep an open mind. The panel was actually a lot more reserved than I had hoped, especially with the new Army regulation coming out about electronic communications and the impact(s) it would have on blogging. I was hoping that Lex would push Noah a little harder on his thoughts but it never went that far. Always the gentleman.
The conference wrapped up and the fun began. The nitty-gritty details (some of them...) are in my AAR. But one of the things I remember most about Lex at that point was the fact that his voice in real life - the way he spoke, the thoughts he conveyed, the way in which he conveyed them - mirrored the way he "spoke" on his blog.
I write pretty much as I speak but I'll go back and look at something I wrote months ago and think, "I wrote that?" because it just doesn't mesh with how I hear myself most of the time. Or maybe it's just the voices in my head, I'm not sure. There was a funny bit going around on Facebook and Pinterest a short while back - a picture of Morgan Freeman and a quote of some kind. And the last line in the quote was something to the effect of, "you are now reading this with my (Freeman's) voice in your head." And the funny thing is that, after meeting Lex and spending the evening just listening to him tell stories, his voice stuck with me and I hear it every time I read something he's written. Every time. Because how he wrote was how he spoke.
We had all been drinking - some of us were rather inebriated - and car keys were taken, for safety, of course. I teased him once that I saved his life and he owed me. He promised to repay and he did. When life hit the fan a short while ago and many people I thought were my friends scattered like cockroaches on the kitchen counter when the light goes on, he was one of several people offering a voice of calm reassurance in the midst of a very dark time. He dropped me a note early on and asked if I was ok. I was not and he talked me back from the edge on several occasions - always with the gentle reassuring tone. And once things had settled down a bit, I could count on him to drop a note here and there, especially if he hadn't seen me at his place or if I hadn't been posting here. Kind of like Pogue and BillT, in that sense (thanks, friends!).
We stayed in touch sporadically and he was always quick to respond if I emailed him, even though (like others have said) there were dozens of us and only one of him. He was good at making you feel special. Even if you weren't.
I remember the first time I commented - not so much which post or subject was discussed - but the joy that was had when he responded. Again, feeling incredibly out of my league over there, commenting took a lot of courage as I really felt I had nothing to contribute to the incredible conversations taking place there. Occasionally I'd get it right and I'd be rewarded (as it were) with a blue rectangle below my comment (indicating the author was responding). I was like a child who's parent acknowledges their hard work. I think I rode that high for the rest of the day and into the next.
I think that was one of the things I liked best about him - he had the same, gentle way about his as my father. And I'm sure he's rolling his eyes right now on being equated to my dad. But that's how it felt - he was kind, generous with his knowledge, always looking to impart some wisdom, and I admired the hell out of him. I am grateful that I had the chance to tell him that in writing and in person.
However, the flip side of that is the grief that I'm swimming in right now. I don't think anything aside from my father's death and the death of one of my students has ever hit me like this. And part of it is the fact that the community that he built up at his blog - the incredible people behind those screen names whose wisdom, insight, and humor I have come to cherish and crave - no longer has an anchor. We are unmoored - literally and figuratively. And that's about how I feel right now - unmoored. Lost. He was an anchor in my life - someone I could turn to (even if it was just virtually) for insight, wisdom, and usually a laugh - and now he's gone. I can't explain this to people outside of the MilBlogosphere. They don't 'get' it. And that's ok but doesn't do much to help the moms in my homeschool group why I'm a hot mess this week. So I just told them that I lost a very good friend this week.
A friend and I were talking earlier this week about the fairness of it all. Not so much his death but the manner of it. Was it fair to subject his family to the small agonies of military life? Was it fair to subject them to the horrible agony of dying as a result of that life? Lex pondered 'the separation thing' in one of his earlier blog posts - one that rings very true today.
There are many wonderful things about a life spent flying fighters off of aircraft carriers, many great rewards from sailing the seas in your country's defense. But I have lost thousands of days that I will never get back, days gone forever. And there are times, gentle reader, when I wonder if it was worth it.
I cannot speak for Lex's family, nor can I speak for my friend (who posed the question in the first place, moreso regarding his own military service as opposed to Lex's) and his family. I can speak for myself - it's worth it. I've told MacGyver on several occasions that I want him to do what fulfills him. I've watched my husband work in a position he didn't want, doing jobs he didn't want to do but doing them to the best of his abilities, regardless. I've watched him fight losing that zeal for life during that time. And - from a more detached and distant viewpoint - we all watched Lex go through the same thing. Life in the cube was sucking it out of him in many ways. As hard as MacGyver has had to work to get back in the cockpit, it's all worth it because that gleam came back into his eyes. His fulfillment was worth it.
If it's your time to go, it's your time to go and it doesn't matter if you're tooling around the Middle East in a flying school bus or flying jets, training the next generation of pilots in the Nevada desert or sitting on your couch watching 'American Idol'.
I just wish it hadn't been Lex's time. I miss my friend deeply. The 'unbearable lightness' is gone and I am unmoored.
Song found in the last video he put up - Ahab.