5 years ago today I was sitting by a pool in Houston celebrating with friends who were getting married the next day. Most of us had a friend in common and his name was Spencer. Spencer had been battling cancer on and off for several years. He was full of life despite the fact that his body had taken a beating from surgeries and treatments and cancer just being a real big jerk to him. I only knew Spencer after his first round with cancer. I only knew him as the bald, skinny, older guy who told good jokes and wore Adidas soccer shoes nearly every day with jeans and t-shirt and walked with the slightest limp. We had several meaningful conversations and times together. He started writing songs and playing music and a lot of my memories of him involve music. I wasn’t especially close to Spencer, but I always felt very connected to him in a strange way. I still feel connected to him and it’s especially amplified today on the anniversary of his passing. I want to share some of my favorite memories of him today in an effort to remember him and continue the celebration of his life.
- Numerous “candle nights” in the game room, especially the night he shared a lot about his struggle with cancer and how it had impacted his life and changed him for the better.
- Numerous SGA retreats and events
- I remember one afternoon in the SGA office, he asked if he could play me a song he was working on for a friend. His friend had asked him to write a song and play it for his girlfriend when he proposed. The song is called “My Dear.” We went into his office and he closed the door and played and sang to me. I sat with teary eyes and a smile as he shared words that he longed to be able to say someday to a girl of his own. He asked my opinion and I gave it and we had a good conversation about girls and relationships and marriage. Later that year I asked if he would play in my wedding and if I could use “My Dear” as part of our ceremony. He grinned and agreed. And when the cancer came back with an angry fist that Spring, he sent me “My Dear” and a gift card and said, “Sorry I can’t be there in person, but I’ll be there in spirit. Thank you for believing in me and my music. ”
-His “fake” obsession with Chuck Norris and the karate moves that were displayed on a regular basis with Brack.
-The Living Room tour
-Taking a break from camp and hearing SLG play at the Spider House in Austin, Tx. He spent that summer playing a ton of shows.
-Senior year, the special meeting called where Spencer told us the cancer was back and he would be leaving school. I remember him telling us he had hope and was at peace. He asked me to lead us in his favorite hymn, “It is well with my soul.” That hymn has carried a heavy significance ever since.
-Teaching my “little brother/sister” all the words to his song “Crispitos.” To this day, we still sing it at the top of our lungs when we’re in my car.
-The many voices and characters of Spencer. He had no shame when it came to impersonations and making fun of people.
-His belief. He believed in the power of music and story. He believed in Camp Olympia and the work they were doing with young people. He believed in God and what He was doing in his life….even through his dark journey with cancer and his days of doubt.
-His memorial service. That may sound morbid, but the church was packed with people there to celebrate him. So many wonderful stories and photos and videos were shared. We laughed and smiled and enjoyed ourselves. The most moving part for me was the close of the service. It was a time of reflection and we all had our heads bowed. Through the quiet, we heard the sound of bagpipes start outside. It grew louder and they came inside playing “Amazing Grace.” The player weaved through the sanctuary and the hallways haunting us with the melody and forcing us to recall the words. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.
I’m overwhelmed today recalling the small percent of the Spencer I knew and his part in the story of my life. I’m reminded of his grateful heart for life and the urgency to live it. I’m reminded of his thankfulness for grace and its abundance in his life. I’m reminded of his strong voice and the restlessness he felt to share his story through music. And I’m reminded to enjoy every sandwich, to lean into the wind, to hear the call of wilder things, and to know who holds tomorrow and that it’s never me.
Rest in peace, my friend.
(For those that read this and knew Spencer, feel free to leave your favorite memories in the comments. I'd love to hear yours.)