Goodbye, my Son. My friend.
“Your journey to heaven or hell or oblivion or reincarnation or whatever it is that death holds. … This is the Antechamber of the Mystery…”
Brent Weeks, The Way of Shadows
I suppose this will be the last entry in Aaron Winborn’s blog. This is his dad, Victor Winborn, filling in for him. Aaron entered his final sleep of this life on March 24, 2015. His transition was peaceful, and he was at peace with himself.
Aaron was the oldest of six natural siblings and two step-brothers. He was convinced, of course, that I was doing the father thing all wrong and that he could do far better on his own. He finally got to try to prove it when he gained two daughters of his own. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with ALS shortly after the youngest was born. We will never know how successful he would have been with teenage daughters, but if the first few years of life with the girls are any indication, he would have been an outstanding father.
His mom, Lynn, no doubt carries the most memories of his infancy and childhood, though there is the interesting story or two that Aaron carried with him to the end. Such as the time his friend, Buddy (remember the My Buddy dolls?) became so dirty that his mom insisted Buddy needed a bath. Aaron was having a panic attack over Buddy drowning in the washer, so his mom invited him to sit in front of our front loader and watch his playmate float past the window in the door of the machine. Things were going great and Aaron was pretty sure his friend must be enjoying the swim, when Buddy suddenly exploded and his innards filled the machine with cotton-like blood. This was such a vivid evisceration that Aaron carried that vision, burned into his retina, to the end.
At twelve, we let him fly to Houston to live for a few months with his aunt and uncle, Diana and Les. He learned lots of useful things there, such as that you can’t just get your hair wet to prove to your more than astute aunt that you washed it. You actually have to put a little of the shampoo on your head so she can smell the strawberry scented perfume in it. His Uncle Les was one of his favorite people in the world. Les is the most captivating professor that either of us ever took a class from. In college, Les’ classes on Vietnam history, Film history, and Black history gave Aaron a yearning to teach.
Aaron had innumerable interests and was talented in most all of them. He left home shortly after high school in order to spend time with Paul Solomon (Fellowship of the Inner Light) at Paul’s retreat, Hearthfire. A year or so later, we learned that he had become personal assistant for Elizabeth Kubler Ross (On Death and Dying). Then we learned that he had moved to a commune in England, Mickleton House in Mickleton Village, Gloucestershire, UK. While there he worked in construction and kissed a girl for the first time.
When he finally returned home, Aaron and I were able to work together for several years. As we drove from job to job, we talked about books, poetry, religion, history, philosophy, technology, and science. We frequently didn’t agree on many topics, but we had eerily similar interests. That made it both fun and frustrating to carry on extended conversations. Of all my kids, Aaron was at the same time, both the most like me and the least like me. I often wondered how that worked. While he may have inherited a lot from his old dad, he always had a mind of his own.
One of those extended conversations had to do with both the purpose and destiny of the soul. I had homed in on the concept that a person was a soul, consisting of physical body and immaterial spirit. At the time, Aaron had no problem with that concept. Where we departed ways was in the purpose. He felt that we were in this physical realm in order to overcome physicality and to develop the spirit – at all odds with the physical pressures against the concept. My belief was that the spirit came to this world in order to learn to master the physical. The final take of our argument was that since he was the younger and had more years ahead of him than I did, I hoped that he would somehow find the real answer and share it with me. Now that Aaron has passed into or through the “Antechamber of the Mystery”, if he has any consciousness at this point, he knows the answer. Unfortunately, the veil separating us will prevent him from giving me the answer. I’ll have to go find it for myself.
The yearning to teach that his Uncle Les had instilled in him was finally fulfilled when he was offered the opportunity to teach at School in the Community in Carrboro, North Carolina. This is where he learned of his love for Web development. During this period, he attended a retreat at the Mid-Atlantic Buddhist Association outside St. Louis, and managed to fulfill a 30-day vow of silence. Any of you who knew Aaron while he had a voice, know that the experience must have been torture for him. Shortly after that, he met the love of his life, Gwen Pfeifer. They then moved to Willimantic, Connecticut. He taught at Sudbury School about 25 minutes away in Hampton. Hampton has the honor of being the only town in Connecticut without a stoplight. Their oldest daughter, Ashlin, was born while he worked there.
A few short years later, he was able to fulfill his next big dream of professional Web development. He became the first employee of Advomatic and ultimately also became an expert in the Drupal content management platform. After they moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania he wrote the book, Drupal Multimedia. In Harrisburg, Ashlin (and now Sabina) started attending The Circle School.
The Circle School community has been the core of the most amazing support group that I have ever heard of, much less experienced. For almost four years, they have offered food, help, work, laughs, and tears to the entire family. The co-captains in the Gwen & Aaron’s Helping Hands group have been relentless in their efforts to keep the little community vibrant, healthy, and ever-busy. Every time I have made the trip up to PA to visit, there have been multiple people dropping by to provide meals, take Ashlin to local events, help Aaron with his computer work, or just to offer hugs and hold hands with him.
I think the most important non-family member in their lives has been Michelle, who started out as a Mother’s Helper, and ended up being, besides Gwen, Aaron’s primary caregiver. She has become such an important part of the family, that little Sabina actually believes she is a family member. Michelle just finished her degree in psychology, though; and she and her husband will be moving closer to his work in Baltimore. She will always be a part of Ashlin’s and Sabina’s hearts, and I suspect will stay close to the girls for many years.
As many of you know, Aaron chose to take the path of coming back to this life in the same body that he inhabited here as Jeffrey Aaron Winborn. In other words, he chose to have his body frozen (cryonics) and hopes to have it restored when science has the knowhow to bring it back from the dead and to heal the affliction that ALS laid upon him.
While he was still at home, Aaron and I went through a period of reading many of Robert Heinlein’s books. One especially notable character of his was a curmudgeon named Lazarus Long. Lazarus was the main character of a number of books. I guess I didn’t realize at the time how much an impression this character made on Aaron. He ended up naming his first dog Lazarus Long Winborn. I just called him Grandpuppy. Aaron has been interested in cryonics for a long time, and had been planning on taking advantage of it even before he learned he had ALS. I have always wondered how much influence the Heinlein books had on this decision.
He leaves behind, his beautiful and loving partner, Gwen, and his two wonderful daughters, Ashlin and Sabina. Besides his core family, he leaves behind parents, siblings, aunts & uncles, cousins, a large local community of friends and caregivers, an extended family of coworkers, professional friends, activist friends, fellow ALS patients and survivors, and many more than I could ever know. There must be hundreds of people who have learned to love and honor him. And now comes the hardest moment a father can ever have when he has to say…
Goodbye, my Son. My friend.