Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shawn Mahaffey, Rest in Peace

Coming across Nevada we ran into a blizzard. We decided to stop in Elko—really the weather gave us no choice—and I turned the U-Haul toward a cheap-looking hotel. But I forgot I was driving a truck and slammed the roof of the U-Haul into the overhang at the hotel entrance. The truck shook violently; we could hear the truck's roof dragging along the base of the overhang. "Keep going!" Shawn shouted. Soon we pulled clear. When I parked—anyone who knew Shawn will know that I'm not exaggerating—he literally fell out of the truck, he was laughing so hard.

We walked to the overhang and looked up. There were streaks of freshly gouged paint along its underside.

More laughter, through the lobby doors—I let Shawn lead the way; I knew his smile would help.

The Chinese lady at the reception desk said, "Don't do that again!"

Again Shawn was in stitches. But his laughter was softening her. "Whole building shake," she said—speaking more gently.

His smile, his laughter—I don't use this word lightly: Irresistible. By the time she gave us our room key even she was laughing.

And he had his saying for the rest of the trip, in a perfect Chinese accent: "Don't do that again!"


Shawn was on the trip with me because he knew that a brother-in-law needed help. That was all he needed to know. That's how Shawn was, to a greater degree than anyone I've ever met.

Why is it that the most selfless people we meet are often the most haunted?

Shawn was an alcoholic and died from complications arising from his alcoholism. Those of us who knew him now ask ourselves if we could have done more. I could have; the cold luxury of hindsight makes that cruelly clear.

But we often fail each other, just as we fail ourselves—the point now, as Shawn's brother said in his funeral yesterday, is to "choose to remember." Shawn makes remembering easy, having been, in a manner that was both a blessing and a curse, unforgettable.

Rest in peace, Shawn. We miss you terribly.

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