The little girl was telling some tall tales. Dreams, conjured from the depths of an innocent soul, about fantastical whales and maybe mermaids and other oceanic creatures. Hard to know…she talked so fast, scampering in and out of the shadows framed by the early summer South Pacific sun.

This morning marked another trip around that sun for me, my own year-older steps running toward another kind of shadow, thrown by a final hospital bed. That’s where we’ll be later tonight, saying goodbye to someone who beat the odds. Until he didn’t.

I met him once in the late ‘90s, then again a few years ago, and have only seen his nine-lives story through other people’s lenses. But I think if he were to tell his own, he would talk of beautiful moments blurred by a haze of fires set by his own hand.

Fires that left so many bridges burned, and dreams, gone in smoke.

One of those dreams had been to visit Hawaii, where I watched that little girl run along the beach path with her sandals in her hand, telling her tall tales. She reached the parking lot, and the consequence of bare feet on hot asphalt immediately escalated her delivery into an indecipherable shriek. Her mom suggested that if she just stopped for a minute to put on her sandals, she might find some comfort and be able to tell a better story.

But the little girl refused, spinning circles in search of relief, as she screamed under a South Pacific sun that will forever remain a dream for a man whose luck had finally run out.

Maybe if he’d just stopped for a minute to put on his own sandals, he might have found some comfort, too. For him, maybe leather cut from commitment to his family and soles forged from sober living could have helped him move easier through the unforgiving landscape of experience. Maybe he could have told a better story, instead of spinning his own circles, in search of relief.

He was carrying those sandals in his hand the whole time, of course…just didn’t ever put them on for very long.

The scramble to find a trans-Pacific flight that might get us to Washington state while he’s still alive landed me here, in seat 8F, at the crossroads of my own arrival many years ago and his departure, probably later tonight. I’m grateful to him for being half of the reason my wife is here. I know that she will advocate and fight for him at the end to make him comfortable, having long since made her own peace with his decisions earlier in life.

As I will advocate and fight for her, finally knowing the fabric of these protective sandals I held in my hand for so long, before ever putting them on.