Tonight, I made the short drive to Londonderry, NH. I drove through familiar neighborhoods on my way to the funeral home. Some of the roads I drove on, weren’t even there when I was growing up in Londonderry. Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with this funeral home. This past April, I stood in the same room that I was in tonight, in front of the gathering, in tears, remembering my Dad.
This evening as I stood among the large crowd of people inside that very room, I listened as my friend Tim, remembered his Dad. I reverently watched as “Taps” was played and the American Flag was presented. I wiped away a few tears as Tim mentioned so many of the things, that will “never be” again, as his Dad is gone. I got a lump in my throat as I remembered many of my own interactions with Mr. Tsetsilas and his family. The room was full, and overflowing. The line was long, and wound down the driveway outside. Cars lined Mammoth Road across the road from the high school that so many of us attended decades, yes, decades ago.
I talked to my Mom on the phone during part of my drive to Londonderry. I had hoped my wife could join me, but we had 3 or 4 places to be all at the same time. I told my wife, and my Mom, how I don’t like going to these things. Not because of time, or respect, or any other thing, except for one thing. When I walk into those rooms, I know that there is someone, or maybe many someones, who are dealing with perhaps the toughest times of their entire life in those moments. This is where I pray a little more, I ask for the right words, along with extra love and compassion. I have written too many times on this subject, it seems. Here are some words that I have shared before, in times like these…”Please don’t think that this is over when the news stops running or the stories stop circulating. You and I may be a part of the plan. Anyone of us could be instrumental. Our words, our actions, just might be the right thing at the right time for the one who needs that spoken word or the example they were looking for. Really it’s always supposed to be that way. We are human, and our best moments aren’t all of our moments. Yet the more we think our moments are our best, the more they will be. And the moment we decide that we need to be our best might just be the moment that God’s plan includes us to be the message for someone needing to see that something that helps them cope and overcome.”
As I stood in a crowd, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds, I looked for someone I recognized, someone I knew. There had to be many but I wasn’t sure where the line was, or if there was a line at all. Then, Rich, Russ, Stephanie, Sean, Tim, and Peter were all around me, and the line I sought, became a little less important for a moment. While I was still in virtually the same spot that I landed, upon clearing the front door, the service started. We all stood and listened to the tribute(s) for the man, whose passing had brought us together this February evening.
I listened closely, and in the moments following, when folks who had already been through the line, began to file outside, I picked up the trail of the line again. I watched a slide show, that was playing on a screen along the line, of pictures from Arthur’s life. I went through the line with Peter, who, thankfully, kept me company while I scanned the crowds for people I knew but didn’t necessarily recognize. I saw Chris, Becky, Tom, Wayne, Todd, Dave, Mike, Jonesy, and more. I spoke with almost every one of these folks mentioned, and more. There were two women from the Class of 89 in line behind me, who knew my brothers, and since I was Class of 85, I referred to myself as the ancient oldest brother.
I thought about Londonderry, this little town when I moved into town in 1972, that is so much bigger now. Imagine a time when we were all young, and in this town, that none of us picked, where we all grew up. Our parents were there for a myriad of reasons, but to us, this is where, and with whom we lived, and so our roots were cultivated. We went to classes together. We learned together. We overcame hurdles, nuances, and quirks together as we matured and grew. We had fun together. We competed together. We saw highs and lows together. We watched as one class, and the next, and so on, graduated and went their separate ways. For many of those kids, the names I mentioned, I hadn’t seen them since those days. Still I would call them my friends because I don’t see why years removed should have changed that.
See back in the day, as it were, any of us, if not all of us, could have easily run into each other on any day of school. We could have just as easily gathered in the yard at the Arthur Tsetsilas residence in South Londonderry, to play basketball, grill some burgers, and swim in the pool. All of us could have been present at a gymnastics meet (that’s for you Steph), a soccer game, a football game, a basketball game, or even on the baseball diamond. Most all of this group could have been at the rec hall playing basketball or volleyball at any given time as well. We all followed each other, mostly because we all wore Londonderry on our uniforms, but in another way, because we were among the individuals that were all better for having been together. And somehow tonight, it felt like we were all a little better for being in that room together, again. Maybe it was just me.
If my memory is what it used to be, then I have forgotten. Arthur Tsetsilas coached me for years, while I played Babe Ruth Baseball. I was an unobservant teen, living and loving the days of my youth. I wish I remembered more personal stories about Arthur, Tim and Shawn’s Dad. What I do remember is that we were all perfectly attentive, mild-mannered, and wonderfully humble, quiet kids that were a breeze to work with. Please don’t correct me if I am wrong. Honestly though, having coached for many years, and having been a father now for 25 years, I grew to respect Mr. Tsetsilas even more. Tonight, I wanted to show that respect, and to support the Tsetsilas family.
I wrote on the online guest book that Mr. Tsetsilas was a “Popeye-esque” figure in my mind. To me, that’s a good thing. Mr. Tsetsilas was athletic, and he was strong. He mumbled some, and if you were close enough, and quick enough, to catch his commentary, he was hilarious. Maybe the biggest feather I would place in his cap, would be his commitment to volunteerism, because it was second to none. His work ethic knew no boundaries, and that included everything he put himself into. I don’t remember struggles, difficulties, or drama with his teams, because Mr. Tsetsilas made everything easy for us, seamless. We had the luxury of being exactly what we were best at, being kids. Tim or Shawn might correct me on this, or they may concur, but to me, Mr. Tsetsilas had mastered a skill that I have tried to master myself. He was serious enough to do an honest day’s work, while leading by example, making friends for life out of sheer respect, and raised a family to be adults that have no excuses, all while never fully ceasing to be a kid. That, to me, is the secret that Mr. Tsetsilas taught all of us, and we all benefited by him living that way.
Some 600 people showed up tonight, I heard. And countless others have been positively been impacted by the life of Mr. Arthur Tsetsilas. As we settle in, before we drift to sleep the next time, may we pray for Tim and Shawn, and the entire Tsetsilas family. To my generation, may we remember the days where “Londonderry” across our chest was enough that none of us would leave a teammate behind, and we’d run through a wall if we had to. So may we also be present for Tim and Shawn, and family as reality continues to press to the forefront. These times can be difficult, numbing, and seem completely hopeless, but there is light, there is always light. The definition of darkness goes something like this: the partial or total absence of light. Let us be that light should they need it.
Folks, I am sure I left some people out, or just flat didn’t recognize you. For that, I apologize. I am so happy that I was able to see so many people from another time in life. It meant a lot to me. I am even more pleased that we were all there for the Tsetsilas family. Rest in Peace Arthur. You will be missed. You will be remembered.