26 February 2014

Seamus Raphael O'Bryan

I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind I've known that this day would come. The motorcycling world, my motorcycling world to be more specific, would lose someone precious and dear. Three weeks ago, on the morning of January 31, we lost our brother, Seamus O'Bryan.

I had the good fortune to meet Seamus for the first time a little more than 14 years ago, at The University of Arizona. Two years later, we both left, me having earned a degree, and Seamus moving on to other things. He would later return and finish out his degree in theater education, but prove that he was destined for a much wider variety of life than theater alone could provide.

Seamus, a native of Phoenix, wanted to learn to sail tall ships, and found himself on board the Alvei, a ship that circled the South Pacific, often ferrying people and supplies for an organization called Project MARC (medical assistance to remote communities). He eventually joined the group and helped bring clean water, doctors, and women's clinics to remote areas desperately in need of these things. Not long after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Seamus found himself there in the middle of it all, giving his time and skills to help those who needed it most.

Seamus was involved with Project MARC for a number of years, during which time he would find himself back in the states working in theater to finance his volunteering. In 2008, as did most of the free world, Seamus and I reconnected on Facebook. We played a little catch up, and this past April, we wound up in the same city at the same time, working for the same company.

As this summer's work ramped up, we figured out how to do many of the things we enjoyed together, on the one day off a week when our schedules would overlap. We climbed, went to the shooting range, went to the archery range, sailed, and rode our motorcycles everywhere. His motorcycle was his only form of transportation, which works a lot better in San Diego than in most other places in the country, and we took them everywhere--we rode down into Baja one Mexico Monday, making it the third country I had been to on my bike.

We made quite the pair when we would pull up somewhere, Seamus on his shiny Honda Shadow 750, and me on my beat up BMW F650GS. I laughed often at how big my bike looked next to his, but our bikes suited us well. We traded a couple of times over the summer, but in the end, we were always happy to get back to our own.

In December, a couple of months after I returned to Denver, I got a call from Seamus. We chatted for a while before he had to go in for his work call. He excitedly told me about an upcoming trip he would be heading out on with his buddy Peter from Australia. Peter was coming out to the states and the plan was that Seamus would line up a bike and gear, and the two of them would ride part of the pacific coast and into Arizona right after the Christmas show at The Old Globe closed.
This would be his first real road trip on the bike, and I regularly got updates and pictures of the bike and gear, and reports on the need to get started on the trip so he would stop spending money on stuff for the trip. That made me laugh, as I know that feeling all too well.
Peter Newbigin and Seamus O'Bryan on their January 2014 road trip.
It looks like a quick fix was needed and successfully implemented.

The guys had a great trip, and I was looking forward to hearing the details. Seamus went right into tech rehearsals after returning, and I was in the middle of tech also. I sent him a quick note the day after my kickstand fell off, and my bike took a dirt nap at the gas station. I could hear the laughter in his response message, and we promised to catch back up after we opened our shows.

Early in the morning on January 31, the day after opening his show, a man in a Cadillac turned left in front of Seamus as he was driving down University Ave in San Diego. In an instant, this amazing human being was taken from us, leaving an emptiness that, right now, seems impossible to fill.




As I read over what I have written above, it seems a horribly hollow description of my friend. It would be impossible to tell his story in anything less than something the size of a Michener novel.

The last few days, we have had funeral and memorial services. As with any event of this type, we all had our times of being terribly sad. But, when we could see through the sadness for a few moments, we have also been able to tell our stories and laugh like crazy. Who else could I possibly have been sitting with in a sailor bar, and turned in surprise when someone walking by caught her peg leg on the ratty carpet, fallen, and not spilled a drop of her whiskey?

Yup, that happened. That and so much more. At his memorial in Phoenix, his mother spoke with more grace than I could have imagined was possible to possess at a moment like that. She reminded us that in the end, Seamus's life was not really cut short. He lived more in his 32 years than most will live in 80.

At the beautiful memorial service in San Diego, hosted by The Old Globe Theater and The LaJolla Playhouse, I was asked to speak and tell an uplifting story or two. It was hard to choose! I told a couple of sailing stories as sailing had brought many of the 300+ people there that night together. At the end, I told part of this last story.

Before I left San Diego in September to return home to Denver, Seamus helped me run some errands to load my bike and get new tires for my truck. As we sat stopped at an intersection, I silently ran through everything I still needed to accomplish feeling more and more stressed as I added it all up. Suddenly I feel the truck shaking violently and I look over to see Seamus dancing as wildly with his upper body as he could.

"Intersection Dance!"

I didn't play along. He kept at it until I smiled, then finally started laughing and doing my own little dance. A week after Seamus's accident, I walked into my garage and looked at my bikes. I hadn't realized until that moment that I had been avoiding doing so. Last weekend, I got on my big bike, went out and put 180 miles on in the sunshine of the day. As I rode down 85 through Brighton, I had to stop at a traffic signal. It was a long light. A fun song came on, and I threw my arms into the air and did an intersection dance, much to the amusement (I like to think) of those around me. Thank you for that, Seamus.


For Seamus Raphael O'Bryan

5 June 1981 - 31 January 2014

"...and I'll see you someday in Fiddler's Green."