Poignant Happy Birthday

Campbell turned 14 this Sunday, September 13. By the end of the day, I had ample reason to realize how grateful we are for this and every Birthday.

In the morning, I participated in a 5k race in memory of Alex Gravino, who was a 15-year old student of the Red Hook High School at the moment her life was tragically taken in an accident last year. Her mother was one of the Onteora Runners Club’s top female competitors, and Alex, too, was a keen runner; the Catch-a-Rae run, walk and kids’ run was established shortly after her sudden death, as a way to pay tribute to her life, and to raise money for actionforalex, a memorial fund which sponsors events, projects, and a scholarship. Several hundred people showed up bright and early this Sunday morning to participate in the Second Annual Catch-a-Rae run, including many of her high school friends. Everything was extremely well organized, with music, food, raffles, and a beautiful logo that local students were offering to transfer onto sneakers and baseball boots. Though I didn’t know Alex personally, and know her mother only in passing (or typically, in trying to keep up with her), the event seemed an ideal way to keep her memory alive with friends, family and a wider community at large.


The afternoon brought home a more recent and immediate loss. In his final weeks, and since his passing, Killian Mansfield’s name has spread much further than his local community. Killian suffered from a rare form of cancer, which took his life over the summer at the age of just 16. Rather than allow himself to be weighed under by the constant barrage of treatments and procedures, he campaigned strongly for the kind of integrative health care that treats the whole child – mind, body and spirit – and encourages them to lead productive and exciting lives. The CD he recorded with the likes of Levon Helm, Dr. John, Kate Pierson and John Sebastian (to name just a few), entitled Somewhere Else, has been featured by Don Imus, Entertainment Weekly, the Wall Street Journal and more, and has spent considerable time in the amazon top 100. Proceeds from Somewhere Else raise money for the Killian Mansfield Foundation, which itself serves to promote these integrative health care treatments for children with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Killian’s family, who have proven themselves beacons of inspiration, insisted that his funeral serve as a celebration, and at the end of the service yesterday at an overflowing St. Augustine’s Chapel in West Shokan, a crowd nearing 1000 people, many of them his fellow Onteora High School students but also including community members of all ages, took part in a mile-plus procession to the Bushkill Cementary. As they walked, they sang the chorus to Brett Dennen’s “Blessed”

Blessed is this life
And I’m going to celebrate being alive

while playing ukeleles (Killian’s chosen instrument), drums, guitars (our little Noel strummed his guitar the whole way, barely noticing the distance he was traveling), violins, whistles and, in my case, an accordion. It was an emotionally draining occasion, yet it was beautiful and uplifting to see Killian’s departure treated as such a celebration of his life. We were unable to stay through the whole of the potluck community party and musical jam that then took place at the Davis Field in West Shokan, but the reports I heard back and the pictures I have now seen at Killian’s Facebook page, only confirm what I suspected: that it was everything his family had hoped for.

img_3142.jpg Father and son a week before the birthday. At Burning Man, atop the Walking Beast, Saturday September 5.

Campbell has reason to be happy this birthday. He finally has his own computer. (Largely paid for through several years of saving up for it, I should note.) But I think he also understands – we certainly do as parents – that our time here is not guaranteed, and that we are to always make the most of it, lest it be taken away from us. He’s a great kid and he make us very happy. Here then, is to countless more birthdays – more, indeed, than we as parents will ever get to enjoy with him.

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1 Comment(s)

  1. 15 September, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Happy Birthday, Campbell! And a moving post, Tony.

    (BTW–Love those bandanas you’re both sporting! Can I post the pic?)

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