Aspen is one of those places that cannot be mimicked by anywhere else, regardless the effort. It is a tiny town, sporadically but consistently filled with hugely inflated egos of the wealthy who were there scattered between the incredible, humble, fun loving, kind, tight knit community of locals that keep the place running.
Due to Aspen’s 11,000 ft elevation and geography of being in a mountain valley, it is difficult to get to and difficult to leave. Due to my history there over the course of my life, it has also been difficult for me to go there and more recently, difficult for me to leave.
Our family lived full time in Phoenix for my sister and my childhoods. We annually escaped the summer heat of Phoenix that is comparable to living on the sweet face of the sun. As soon as school was out for the summer, we would pack a van full of children, pets and luggage and drive the 16 hour treck to Aspen. I’m fairly certain my mother was always drawn to Aspen for the memories there with my biological father who died when I was four. She re-married and had my sister by the time I was five and in the three and a half decades of my life experiencing my mother and step father’s toxic relationship, maybe six times do I remember them ever getting along for an extended period of time, like really getting along. This made for extremely stressful family time and consequently, stressful times in Aspen.
Family time was often spent in Aspen hence my anxious relationship with the small mining turned celebrity/uber wealthy town. Having to go to Aspen with my family, my siblings and I, and anyone else who were with us and knew our family well were all always on edge waiting for one of our parents to freak out over god knows what. It was a toxic environment to be around. Having celebrities in our midst made it a somehow easier Aspen pill to swallow. It also gave me something not as depressing to talk about when people asked how my time in Aspen was.
This past November, my father passed away. He was technically my step father but I never considered him a step father, probably mostly because I don’t remember my biological father but also because my step father never ever treated me like anything but his daughter. He took care of me in every way a father should care for his daughter. He played with us, he took us to amusement parks, he financially took care of our every want and need.
He was my dad.
Our father was a brilliant man. He started what is now the largest opthalmology practice in Arizona. He was a notable Opthalmologist, literally known the world over, in that field, for his contributions to opthalmology, of which include founding an annual opthalmology meeting in Aspen. For the past thirty years, doctors and opthalmology business owners from across the country, maybe even the world, have come to continue their education in the field of opthalmology, while also enjoying a week in the beauty and luxury of winter in Aspen.
My younger brother and sister and I were asked to present the annual award given out to a recipient that the board of the meeting feels best contributed to the field of opthalmology and also to the annual meeting over the past year.
We were asked to briefly speak about our father. We did, emotionally. We also compiled a six minute video presentation, a very condensed look back at his life in pictures. The 6 minute version was mostly of his professional past, photos from his college graduation and lifelong achievements that include incredible feats such as winning back to back NCAA tumbling championships, being an opthalmologist to the stars and a revered medical business owner. There was not a dry eye in the room once the presentation concluded. It had clearly struck a nerve with the two hundred people in attendance.
We three children and our mother talked about the crowd’s response later and we all agree it made us feel good to have shown his business colleagues a bit of his personal life. It was painful for me to see all of his colleagues there and know I would never again see him there. It is a painful reality I will carry for awhile.
We thanked everyone for keeping our father’s vision (haha) of this meeting so alive and so strong by continuing to attend. He would be so proud to see what it has evolved into.
Not having him around to talk to anymore, reflecting on his life so much these past few months and coming to the opening night of the annual meeting he founded has really made me realize that in the midst of all of our trials and tribulations, we can still create our dream careers and leave long lasting legacies.
I have always been so inspired by his many accomplishments and I never let an opportunity go by that I didn’t tell him so. I am so thankful for all he did for me, and for the example he set with his generosity and belief in people. He gave a lot of people, including me, lots of chances to follow their dreams, whatever they were. I will be forever grateful for the positive contributions he made to so many people’s lives. I wanted to stay and attend a few of the seminars at the annual meeting, but I didn’t. It is a torn feeling, trying to keep a loved ones legacy alive while working to find closure with their passing.
May we all live our dreams and leave lasting contributions to the world we love.
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