Kip Allen died last week. I think of him as the piper in a story he shared about a man who walked across a bridge straight into heavily-armed adversaries, while playing his penny whistle. The enemy was so amazed that they held their fire until he had crossed. It was only a temporary victory for the outmanned forces, but for Kip it seemed to represent how it is possible to remain a human being against any odds.
Kip was attracted to accounts where the hand of fate is stayed, if only for a moment or a day, by someone who steps aside from (or perhaps surfs along on) the path of the inevitable. Another story he told was of the Christmas day when German and English troops laid aside their weapons, came out of their trenches, and played soccer together for that one afternoon.
I think of Kip as having stepped to one side of the discouragement and curtailment that afflicts so many who are struck with neurological diseases, such as MS, ALS, and Parkinson’s Disease.
We had talked about having breakfast together this week; so, now I am thinking about the many times we met for breakfast over the years. Sometimes after breakfast, he had to walk backwards from the restaurant table to the door and then run along the sidewalk, in a loping canter, back to his car. That was how he fooled the Parkinson’s that had invaded the neuromuscular programs involved in the process of simply walking.
Kip was well into his 70’s when he died last week. I wonder if I will ever be able to replace how he would invite me to share what was going on in my life and then deeply listen to what I shared. I was not the only recipient of that rare quality of listening to the heart song of those he was with.
While most of us yearn to be truly seen, Kip has taught me that before any of us can be seen there must be someone who cares enough to be looking. That is how I want to remember him—as the person who makes me want to really notice those around me and harken to what they most cherish.
I met Kip after he was director of the KHFM Classic Music station (he was the one who offered free CD’s for mothers to play to the infants listening inside them); I met him after he was professor of Theater at the University of Albuquerque; after he toured the country for his one-man show as Ebeneezer Scrooge. But I did make it into his life in time to discover how a human being can continue to thrive even while one thing after another is being taken away.