Wednesday, August 9, 2006

I have to write this

Commentary JoEllen Collins

JoEllen Collins

By JoEllen Collins

I have a wonderful compilation of reading selections called "You Have to Read This." I can identify. Sometimes I just have to get down on paper a thought that hits me with the force of an unwanted hurricane, even if later it may be deemed excessive. Many times I have written thoughts only to leave them unpublished upon reconsideration.

This time I am compelled to note the feelings I had upon attending a memorial service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church for an acquaintance of mine, Steve Boughton.

You should know that I have suspended the submission of the column I had already finished because something in me needs to honor the impulse I am having. Also, it might be helpful to understand that I avoid any kind of memorial service whenever possible because I cry and momentarily wallow in a sad set of feelings that I have learned to avoid. That is one of the reasons I have difficulty attending formal worship services: I melt at the first strains of the organ and choir, visions of my wholesome childhood with my devout and loving parents assailing me and making me long for those relatively innocent days at the First Presbyterian Church in Burbank, Calif. I fight the impulse to be maudlin.

Since moving here in 1982, I have mourned the loss of many wonderful people—grownups and children. I have sung "Amazing Grace" too many times. By writing about Steve, I don't mean to ignore my sense of loss at the numerous people we have said farewell to in this valley—teenagers taken too soon by car accidents or skiing mishaps, a beloved young student removed from his family and friends by an allergic reaction—all the people I truly honor in this column. Please know that none of them deserve any less from me or anyone. I can't even begin to name them. Perhaps it is just a small-town phenomenon, or perhaps it is truly that we care for one another, but this community has gathered together in homage so often for too many premature losses.

However, it is incumbent upon me, indeed one of the burdens of being a writer, that I note the tremendous impact that Steve Boughton had on me in a very short time. Sometimes certain people impress themselves upon us in unexpected and blessed ways. I only knew Steve for a year, but there was something about him, about the force of his positive personality, that made a profound impression on me. We connected as I tried to talk during my first visit to his dental office in Hailey. Probably because I couldn't gabble for once, he was able to tell me something about himself. We both attended UCLA, and I used to play tennis with a neighbor at his parents' home in East Fork. He was a combination of gentleness and dynamism. Then, a few months later, when I read cowboy poetry over the Labor Day Weekend, he was there, adding to the crowd's pleasure with his guitar. We exchanged friendly hellos, but that was not enough for Steve. He wrote me a few days later, complimenting me on my reading, and we began a brief exchange of poetry and observations that was cut very short by the announcement of his illness and the suspension of his practice.

I wanted to get on his bone marrow donor list but was deemed too old. I wish I could have been the one to have contributed to a longer life for this man: At the memorial service, his pastor, the Rev. Shawn Curry, of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hailey, expressed the regret that Steve had been taken from us before we could spend enough time with him. I agree.

So, even though I have never met his wife and daughter, I feel I know them a bit. I cannot even begin to assume the truth of their life with Steve, but wish I had had more time to appreciate his talents. Once again, though, I have been reminded to treasure what is here when it is here. How many times have I thought, "If I had only known?" If I had only known Steve would leave us so soon, I would have stood in line to share a few more minutes with him. I need to remember that when I encounter the lovely people in my life. That's another Steve Boughton lesson. Thank you, Steve.

Editor's note: Stephen McKay Boughton, 56, a dentist who lived and practiced in Hailey, died July 30 after a nine-month battle with leukemia. An obituary was published in the Wednesday, Aug. 2, edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.

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