On Sunday, January fourteenth, 2001 at 7:12 am, at my home on Decatur Island, sitting alone in a candlelit space, the darkness looming over the water and the misted islands beyond, I received a call from my parents.
My brother Matt, the youngest of the Girvin brothers, 10 years younger than me, was killed in a helicopter crash, 600 miles from the capital of Mongolia, Ulaan Baatar. He was, as was his ever consuming, fervent desire, seeking to provide aid to some of the stricken aimags or “provinces” of Mongolia, overwhelmed by the recent snowfall. He was aboard a Russian helicopter with approximately 20 others, most of whom died in the crash and fiery outcome, dropping after engine trouble at about 150 feet in the air. There were some survivors, most of these people are severely burned, and their survival is uncertain. Matt was the only American aboard the craft.
Today, Monday, I leave for Spokane to be with my parents and brothers, Jon from New York, Rob from Tacoma. After a day together, I will be returning tonight.
Matt was a shining principle in the link between the vocation and avocation. His mission and passion was to seek solutions to the international crises that continue to beset virtually all sections of the globe. His focus, with Unicef, was to aid the children of the region; I visited him in Mongolia this past summer. I was struck by his warmth and generosity among the Mongolians, all of his office mates seemed powerfully attracted to his light, and in the weary capital of Mongolia, his apartment was a curious mix of his interests in the West, layered by his fondness for the people and culture of Mongolia. His collection of western music was overlaid with found objects and gestures to the archaelogy of the land. A television, playing eternal homage to the UB singular station programming, found sacred objects from Tibetan Buddhism nearby. Not far away from the apartment, beyond the deserted city square, Matt had planted a garden, guarded by a taxi driver who was incessantly repairing or washing his vehicle. Flowers flourished in his precariously positioned window boxes. And all about, the dismal condition of the Mongolian people, the cast away children, loosened by lost nomads lead to the promise of the city, wandered below, in the alleyways and labyrinthine passages that weave their way through the littered cityscape. So Matt, in the dark tedium of his mission, brought his own mirth and luminescence to his enclave, struggling against the theft, the vagaries of the politics of the Unicef adminstration, members jockeying globally, it would seem, to garner the better positioning, the next step in the post of tenure within this consulting organization. He kept his mission true, like the Mongolian archer, long the ravishing scourge from the East.
During the day yesterday, I remembered him as we used to work together on the island. Trimming trees, arranging stones in balanced cairns, sweeping the decks, stacking (and restacking) firewood, gathering arrangements of sticks to ward off, aesthetically, the encroaching wandering sheep of the island. I can recall our gathering these assemblages by back and by truck, dragging the Madrona branches, whitened by age, to lay out the copse-like channels to block the mindless trails of the sheep. Looking out over an arrangement of stones I stacked to his memory, Ravens looked down, studying my efforts; perhaps they were pondering the possible food I had hidden there. Perhaps.
And standing, talking there on the phone with my parents after this consecration, a light wind blew by, and suddenly, with a clattering on the corrogated overhang of the house, the sky spit hail stones, seemingly in just this spot. The cairn toppled later, leaving three arranged stones, balanced, a symbol of the remaining brotherhood. The hail melted, shown here, and no where else…and in the distance, a clear, luminous shaft of sunlight, shone down. This beam, reaching down through the clouds opening rift, glimmered on the water, extending from a brilliant unfurling of luminous clouds. Then, the sky closed up, and the cairn, the ovoo of the Mongolians, was shrouded in the earliness of the mornings reflected light.
Madeleine, my daughter, reflected that Matt was a phoenix, caught in the alembic of fire, and cast heavenward. I ponder that he was flying, flying away, and in an abrupt transformation, he kept flying. Away…
Now, I am trying to stay attuned to the moment, to hold to the sanctity of just now, just this stringing of seconds. To feel the feeling of this time, and remember Matt Girvin, as he was, a necklace of adventure, risk, passion and humanity that is, in the true context of the Spirit, inspirational.
Those of you that remember him, please proffer a prayer to my family and others that loved him.
Thanks for your considerations…