Remembering Danny Boy

Today is Remember Dan Wheldon Day.

It’s inexorable, like a riptide. No matter how you struggle against it, it sucks you in, overwhelms you, washes over you… nearly drowns you.

Does that sound a bit harsh? I don’t mean it to be. I miss Dan and his crazy capped-teeth grin which looked like oral lightning. I miss the hair which used to be either floppy or spiky depending on his mood. I miss those ridiculous white sunglasses which would have looked grossly stupid on just about anyone else but became a fashion statement because Dan wore them.

I think most of all I miss those eyes of his. Crinkled and squinting, they sparked thoughts of mischievous devils or razor-sharp determination. Wide-open, they were a constant badge of amazement and voraciousness for life. You could feel them, even behind those awful white shades. Those eyes…

Today there are so many tributes, so many well-wishes, so many prayers offered up in Dan’s name and in his memory. It’s a flood, an avalanche, a deluge. It speaks of how highly-regarded Dan was and still is. It also speaks to how raw the emotions still are even a year later.

Dan’s sister Holly has been a force of nature in this process of grieving. It must be in the Wheldon genes, that determination… that emotional pit bull which locks its jaws and doesn’t let go. Her crusade to keep Dan’s memory alive is inspiring; it helps keep her from focusing too much on his loss by concentrating on what he left us.

I don’t know that Susie and her family feel the same way. I don’t really want to ask her. But it feels to me like every time these outbursts of emotion and remembrance happen, it’s as if someone finds the scars in her heart and tears them back open. I have no doubt that Susie is grateful and appreciative of such genuine sentiment, yet I still worry if in our own catharsis we are unknowingly causing her renewed trauma. But maybe I’m transposing my own experiences onto her unjustly.

At any rate, it’s not my place to worry or second-guess. I remain an interloper, one of the folk of the fringe who knew Dan only from a distance, who spoke to him a few times as a stranger, who now harbors a terrible, awful, secret jealousy of those who knew Dan Wheldon better and shared in his life.

What, then, do I have to offer? I shared photos I took of Dan on Twitter. I posted a link to an achingly beautiful rendition of the song “Danny Boy.” How cheap, how schmaltzy, how self-serving that was. What justice does that do to Dan or to the people who loved him?

Other people are offering prayers – either the mention of them or the actual practice. I don’t do that. I’m not religious, and the story of the reasons why is far too long to share here even if it had some contextual relationship. But if it’s the thought of prayers spoken for others that counts, I can only hope that my best wishes will suffice.

I guess what I’m left with is this: I liked Dan Wheldon immensely when he was alive. I miss him terribly now that he is gone. I can’t apply the emotional salve that others do of Dan “looking down on us,” or of him racing against other racers who died before him on some heavenly circuit, or even of him finally having enough space for his celestial shoe collection. But I can voice my belief that Dan was a good man, a loving father, family member, and friend, and someone who made an impact on this world that is worth remembering. Since that is the highest ideal I can aspire to in my own life, I hope that that counts for something beyond the normal platitudes.

I spent a long time debating with myself about whether to write all of this down for publication. There are times when honesty is not entirely welcome or, indeed, appropriate for a particular situation. In the end, though, I think Dan was the kind of guy who would have appreciated it.

Life will continue to go on. But there will always be a part of me which notices the gap Dan Wheldon’s loss left in my life, which rages against the unfairness of it all, but which also feels inexpressibly glad that he was part of my life at all – no matter how indirectly.

Thanks, Dan.