In Loving Memory of Rhiannon Hull
Here’s the eulogy I gave this weekend at the Memorial Celebration for Rhiannon Hull. For those of you who aren’t in the loop, here’s a news story about the tragedy that took my dear friend’s life.
Over the past few days, one of the things I was tasked with was going through Rhiannon’s iPhoto album to find suitable pictures for the press. And not surprisingly, the one constant among the thousands upon thousands of photos I pored through was her SMILE.
It wasn’t just a smile, however. It was a blast of happiness and joy that was forever radiating from her face. It was a smile so all encompassing, it seemed like her whole face was designed around it. Like who or whatever created her thought, “Oh, this would be fun” while sketching out her lips and big teeth… and then thought, “What next? Oh! How about some eyes? Big, brilliant blue ones!” And as if this wasn’t enough, as if this Creator needed to exaggerate these incredible features even further, the smile and eyes sat atop her teeny tiny frame. The end result was an almost cartoonish beauty, and had the effect of making everyone around her happy.
I begin this with this bit about her smile, because to me, that was her defining characteristic. It wasn’t just a physical feature however, but a reflection of the upbeat and positive spirit that lied beneath the surface. She was just a naturally happy woman, and why not? She had a lot to be excited about. For starters, she had raised two exceptional children in Gianni and Julian, and was married to her best friend, Norm. She had the love and support of her family. And she was living amidst a community of people who adored her.
And it didn’t hurt that she was great at everything she did.
As many of you know, Rhiannon was a Track & Field superstar at the University of Oregon, and even raced professionally in Spain afterwards. She might have even been too good, if you ask Norm, for whenever they moved, he was forced to lug around boxes after boxes filled with hundreds of trophies.
She was so good at running, in fact, that last year she won the Fitch Mt. Foot Race, even though when the starter gun went off, she was in the police station bathroom with my wife. Not only that, but for the first quarter mile or so, she ran alongside Amber and me. Actually, that’s not entirely true. She didn’t run alongside us as much as she jogged in place with us for a while. Until finally we told her to GO!
And go, she did. Despite the fact she spotted the leaders a half-mile lead in the six-mile race, she took off like a cheetah and won the damned thing.
But as much as she excelled at running, education was her true calling. She was on a mission to make the world a better place through her words, actions and example. Whether she was teaching yoga, spin class or eco-mamma blogging, she wanted to inspire people to be the best they could be. She sought to help us achieve a balance of body, mind and spirit. And this selfless dedication and interest in others is what made her such a fantastic kindergarten teacher. She lived and breathed the Waldorf philosophy, and was dedicated to spreading its reach. Which of course, is what led her to Costa Rica.
And in case you’re wondering what that experiment was like, I’d now like to read a note from Rachel Zell. Rhiannon taught her daughter, Ruby, and I thought this would give you a sense of how other parents looked at Rhi’s work down there.
“From the day her Escuela Sol y Pura Vida opened, the children were entranced by her magical ways of cooking, cleaning, sewing, water color painting, bridge making, puppet shows, lemon picking and juicing. Friday beach days to Playa Avellanas were always filled with water and sand play, and an occasional dip in the tide pools. Her passion and natural ability to make each component of the classroom visually compelling, and her deep and thoughtful awareness of the natural world, took each visitor to the school’s breath away. She would educate parents of the pedagogy in a way that made you feel like you knew more than anyone else about how education is supposed to be.
In addition to the stories of the adventures of the day, it was the songs of Ms. Rhiannon that followed the kids home. These songs of reverence for the Earth, and thankfulness of each day, continue to carry on days after her death, with the occasional, “Mommy, that’s not how Ms. Rhiannon sings it!” The connection between my 3-year-old daughter Ruby and Rhiannon was so strong that on weekends, when Rhi and Julian would come for a visit and spend the night, Ruby insisted that she sleep with her teacher. And she did. She snuggled right up on Rhi’s chest until early morning, when Rhi would sneak back into bed with Julian.”
For all who knew her, it’s easy to see why kids, and people in general loved her so much. The smile was part of it. That and her fun, infectious energy.
My wife and I only had the privilege of knowing Rhiannon for two years. Yes, we spent a lot of time together in those two years… more time running up and around Fitch Mountain than I care to remember, but still, it was only two years. And yet, it felt like a lifetime because of how open, honest and communicative she was. She was always so present, and in the moment, that she could make deep, lasting connections with people in very short amount of time.
Never was this more apparent than last week, when Norm, Gianni and I traveled to Playa Avellanas. Countless people approached us to express their grief and condolences, and share stories of how she touched their lives. How she inspired them. How much she meant to them. It was clear that Rhi energized this small community. At the memorial, I stood on the beach beside 100 strangers. Strangers united by a common love of Rhiannon. And to put this in perspective, Rhi was only in Costa Rica for 5 weeks. For 100 people to attend the memorial in a town of 60, well, that says all you need to know about her reach, and impact on people.
At times like this, it’s easy to lose faith in the Universe. To feel like there’s no point to anything at all. I know I’ve struggled with this, and I’m sure some of you have too. For me, the only thing that works is to focus not on what we’ve lost, but on all the beauty and wisdom she’s left behind. I like to think of her as a rock star that flamed out too soon. But instead of leaving us a seminal album, she’s left us Julian and Gianni, and a blueprint for the right way to live.