© 2017 Aaron Atkinson

Oh Captain! My Captain!

Sometimes I try to picture what the first explorers and settlers of the American West must have thought when they initally encountered the Rocky mountains. One day your wagon is bumping across the Kansas prairie, and the next you ride up on a beautiful, awe-inspiring, impassible wall. That big rock – without a doubt – changed the course of their lives. I bet that was an image and a feeling they never forgot.

So it was with Weiss.

Beautiful. Inspiring. Life-changing. Unforgettable.

When you encountered him and his high school art class, your days of comfortable riding around the Iowa cornfields were over. As were your notions of art. And teachers. And effort.

He dished out challenges. And you gladly rose to meet them. Despite the monumental effort ahead, you felt driven not just by the grade, but because you didn’t want to let yourself – or him – down.

He pushed you beyond your limits. And you found new ones.

He was a little bit nuts. And he made you a little bit nuts, too. And you loved it.

While our paths have only crossed a handful of times in the last 18 years, each email, or visit, or thought cemented his vast impact on my life.

Just last month I dropped him a casual email. It had been a couple years since our last correspondence. Historically well-known for going off the grid, I didn’t think much of it when that note went unanswered.

Last weekend, when the email came from a close high school friend that Mr. Weiss had passed away. It hit me hard. Harder than I anticipated. One day a naive settler roaming the prairie, the next, once again, stopped dead in my tracks by an immovable force.

Since that moment, I’ve found myself continually on the brink of tears. Fuzzy, two-decade-old memories of him have been my last thoughts of each passing day and my first thoughts of each new morning. It feels like winter’s arrived early. Dark, cold, harsh.

I miss him in a profound, and as he’d say, definitive way.

He was one of a small few to influence my life in a big way. And he continues, posthumously, to influence. In the last week I’ve held my other influencers – a beautiful wife, a curious toddler, and a drooly baby a little more closely. Tightly. Sweetly.

I miss you, Weiss. Your legacy lives on in me and in hundreds like me whose lives you shaped. I’ll be forever grateful for your high school art classes that were really a set of lessons by which to lead a great, big, inspired life.

Being in your presence was never about the art, it was about being in your presence. I trust you knew that.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.

(Note 1: I didn’t shoot this portrait. I stole it from his Instagram account.)

(Note 2: There’s more picturethislife on Weiss here.)


One Comment

  1. Laura
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 2:23 am | #

    I’m sure you make him proud. Just like you make me.

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