By Ashley Lodato
These past three weeks have been hard ones in the Methow Valley as some families come to grips with the loss of their homes and all of us continue to mourn the untimely deaths of three firefighters. And yet there is a terrible beauty that comes with this process of grieving. Tommy Zbyszewski’s memorial on Sunday afternoon was a poignant statement about our community and one young man’s place in it, showing how many lives Tommy touched while he was still with us. Tommy wasn’t just a kid who was widely known in the valley; he was a kid who made a difference in the lives of a lot of people in the valley.
One of the many nuggets that stuck with me after the memorial was something Tommy’s paternal aunt said. She described calling Tommy when he was 3 years old and asking him if he knew how to say his name. “Yes,” Tommy replied, “Tommy Buh-shev-ski.” Having been raised to pronounce her difficult last name phonetically — “Zuh-bye-zew-ski” — to make things simpler for others, Tommy’s aunt was surprised and delighted that her brother, Tommy’s father Ski, had taught Tommy the proper Polish pronunciation.
The story showed how Tommy was raised to embrace what was true, even if there was a way around it. And memory after memory shared by those who knew Tommy well reinforced this: Tommy was committed to what was right and true.
The day was an emotional one, and the Bluebird Grain Farms 10-year anniversary dinner was a welcome way to cap it. Not only was it a way to celebrate the success of a small-scale, organic family farm, but it also gave guests a venue to share some of the feelings they had swirling inside. Conversations were raw and open, as friends who might normally feel awkward saying “I love you” or “I care about you” brought balance to the sadness of this day and these past few weeks by saying things that mattered to people who matter.
Many who had sat with silent tears streaming at Tommy’s memorial were able to transform that sorrow into gratitude for the company of friends, the fresh beauty of blue skies, and a widespread atmosphere of compassion. It wasn’t that we were taking refuge in the emotional safety of a party. It was that on this day that juxtaposed a tragic death and a vibrant life, we were even more grateful for the chance to connect with people special to us in a place special to us, knowing how brief life can be. We accepted humbly the simple gift of one more night on this beautiful earth.