Joy and thunder.

Carl was a man to admire. It was not his physical stature, nor any great and noble deed that he performed. The admiration that came to him from his friends and others was in how he lived his life, at full throttle. Carl had both physical and health challenges that would have stopped a lesser person in their tracks. At just maybe 5’0″, one still always looked up to Carl. On stage or on film, he was a giant of a man. His was a presence to be reckoned with, and while I never knew him as well as others did, I respected his talent. I never had the opportunity to act with him, and that is something I regret.

Two days ago, it was the first anniversary of his death. At 37 years-old, he was taken far too young.

Carl faced health challenges his whole life. Cardiac issues from the time of his birth. Last year, time caught up with him, but with the same fierceness he brought to his acting, he fought against what would eventually claim his life right up to the moment of his death. I saw him a little over a week prior, in the Neuro ICU at Strong Hospital in Rochester. He had suffered a stroke, a brain bleed. I ran into Katharine, his closest friend, and also met his mother and some other family members.

Walking into his room, he was dozing some. He woke up, recognized me, and in a halting, slightly warbling voice, said hello. It was obvious that there had been some deficit that was affecting his speech, but he also still managed a smile. Then, of all things, he asked me how I was doing, and told me I looked well. He had been very supportive of me during my own health crisis, offering words of encouragement. Now it was my turn. I kept my stay brief, as I knew all too well what an effort it was for him to even just speak. I told him that if I could beat what had tried to take me, he could do the same. Deep inside however, my instincts from being a paramedic, and having faced the possibility of my own death were gnawing at me. I somehow knew he wasn’t going to be able to beat this thing.

I so wish I had been wrong.

His death triggered an outpouring of grief in the Rochester theatre community. Being of both French Canadian and Mexican heritage, he was often lovingly called “the Frexican,” by some of his closest friends. I suspect it was a moniker he wore proudly. Here, on the first anniversary of his death, it again triggered an outpouring of both grief, and wonderful memories.

Just about two days prior to the anniversary of his death, or maybe even a little less, another acting cohort, and a friend of Carl’s, would receive something he had been waiting a long time for; Getting his life back.

Like Carl, Andy has also faced his share of physical and health challenges. Like Carl, he is short in stature, but large in presence on stage. He also has faced whatever life has thrown at him, and pushed through the barriers that might have stopped others.

Saddled with a form of chronic kidney disease, he has been tied to a dialysis machine multiple times a week for at least the last 8 years, while he waited on a list for a new kidney that could allow him to resume something of a normal life. I’ve acted with Andy in the past, and and also like Carl, he throws himself into his roles.

Then, it finally happened: just before the first anniversary of Carl’s death, Andy got “the call.” A kidney had been found for him. Two days after his surgery, I went to see him at Strong, on the transplant unit, where I spent so much of my own life over the past two years. We talked about Carl, about life in general, and I gave him some tips on what to expect now, especially since many of the transplant medications he will take will be identical to mine.

You could see in his eyes that he was ready to get back to living as soon as he could. He was already up and walking, a very good sign indeed.

One life taken, another returned. If Carl were here, I know he would be rejoicing in Andy’s good fortune, as many of us in the theatre community in Rochester are doing for Andy now. Both men, lived and living their lives full out, not letting the small things get in the way of who and what they chose to be.

“It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder”
– R.E.M.

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