Knowing Skip Colby

skip colbyIn June 2005 I joined a new church in order to have my son baptized. During his baptism, one member of that community of faith who promised to help raise my son was a gentle man named Skip Colby (it would be several years before I learned his real first name: Hubert). He had a great-granddaughter of his own just a month older than my son. That was the beginning of this amazing journey of knowing Skip Colby.

I saw Skip nearly every Sunday and at various special functions. He was that grandpa that everyone knew and loved. He would great everyone he could. He was always smiling. And he seemed to always direct the conversation to focus on the one he was talking with. Not just a polite “how are you?” but, genuine questions and interest. Always followed by a yearning pause as he waited for the response. He listened to the response – truly listened.

In February of 2006 Skip became more than just that sweet grandpa to me. At the annual adult retreat I got to know more about Skip. We were grouped together for the first night’s ice-breaker. (I have a feeling Pastor Dean paired us up for a reason. He had a knack for seeing things that others may not, and for “helping” make connections and relationships). I was mesmerized by Skip’s stories and breadth and depth of knowledge.

He shared his experiences, or many of them, freely and willingly. He also shared how it formed or changed who he was today because of that experience. I didn’t often hear trivial stories from Skip. I heard happy stories, sad stories, stories filled with trials and strife; there was anger, frustration, exploration and discovery and most of all – joy.  But, he always seemed cognizant of the part these moments played in creating the man he was.

He lived in a dirt floor hovel with a leaky roof. He began working at a very young age. He left his family to go to war. He was a travel guide for many groups to several countries. He’s a bit of a magician. He enjoys writing prose. He married the love of his life. He was treated horribly by his love when her mind, riddled with Alzheimer’s suffering, become confused and didn’t know who he was. It didn’t change his love for her. He was a deeply faith-filled man. He took the time to study many religions to enhance his understandings. Since his 80th birthday he’s tried rock walls, hang gliding and who know what other marvelous undertakings! This is just a smattering of the unbelievable life of Skip Colby. I knew him eight years. I should have known more.

I wondered recently what drew me to Skip – besides the fact that he’s an amazingly fascinating person. He reminded me of my own grandfather (who passed away at 83 years old in 1990). My grandfather was more like a father in my heart. I lived with him for a short while to help care for him, and because that’s where I needed to be at that time.

My grandfather was short with a square build.
     Skip was tall and slender.
My grandfather spoke bluntly and was often ineloquent.      
     Skip was deft at tact and using flowing poetry to share his heart.
My grandfather could be a bit selfish and negative.
     Skip spent a great deal of time listening to, supporting and lifting others.

 So, where did I see the similarities?

 They both served in the army.
     They both married a woman they simply adored with every part of their heart and soul.
          They both had a way of loving unconditionally.

That was it – the way they loved, unconditionally – that’s where I found the similarity.

The way they loved – me.

I was not Skip’s blood-related family.  Yet, that didn’t matter to him.  He loved me.  And he made sure I knew that.  Every week.  He would hug me, and kiss me, and look me right in the eye to say “I Love You.”  It was the kind of look that seems to stare into your soul.  The words bore straight to my broken heart.  Those were never just words to him.  He truly meant them.  Every time.  And it didn’t matter how I’d screwed up, or what I’d done or said that might disappoint him.  That had nothing to do with his love.  He was not foolish enough to believe any of us was without scars or shame or fear or dread.  When he looked at you, when he took your hand or cupped your face in his palms and said “I Love You” – there was an unspoken “you’re forgiven” that came with it.  Even if I had not wronged him.  Even if I had no idea that I’d even done anything wrong.  None of my brokenness mattered – he loved me anyway.  Always.

My grandfather is the only other person in my life who made me feel that way – loved, no matter what.  I have missed my grandfather so much all these years.  I still cry for him at times.  Skip gave me an extension on my time with my grandfather.  Now I cry for Skip, too.

I wasn’t special to Skip in this way.  He loved so many people.  He touched our hearts and souls in ways that can’t be put into words.

He knew and understood so much about his faith – my faith.  He understood the lineage, the relevance of the culture and customs of the times.  He knew the parables and the psalms.  He knew the battles fought for centuries in the name of faith.  He was clear on the hazards of ‘mining’ the Bible for verses to fit what we wanted.  But he never seemed disinterested in understanding more.  Every opportunity that arose for learning and faith exploration would find him right in front, eager to learn.  He taught me so much – from his years of experience and study, his understandings and misunderstandings.  His words were poignant and relevant.  Yet it was his actions – his very being – that taught me the most.  He didn’t need words to teach.

I know and trust God more now than ever before in my life, because of knowing Skip Colby.

I Love You, Skip.

Hubert “Skip” Colby 11/5/1918 – 1/19/2014
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