When the community gathered to remember Josh and Oliver Underhay two weeks ago, Josh’s wife Karri, and his brother and sister, Mitch and Sara, asked people to share how they met Josh:
Both Shea and the Underhay siblings urged members of the community to share with them memories of Josh and Oliver.
“Everyone here has that story of the first time they met Josh. We don’t. We don’t have that. Josh was as real as gravity,” Mitch said.
I met Josh only once, on November 8, 2018. He was one of the “Old Greens” at a meeting of the Young Greens. He was already the candidate for District 9, and was there to talk to those-under-30 assembled about how they could help with the Green campaign and, more generally, what being a member of the Green Party meant.
Being old, and not-yet-even-Green myself–I was only there to support my son being there–I was loathe to do anything more than quietly sit in the back corner, biting my tongue against the urge to comport myself as a wise elder.
But Josh introduced himself to me, and we had a chat about water and electricity and open data. We made tentative plans to get together to talk in more detail.
Then, save for spotting him playing the trumpet at a Green event in Summerside the week he died, I never laid eyes on him again.
The day after Josh and Oliver died I was at Green Party headquarters on Water Street when a group returned from the Haviland Club where friends had gathered to support each other.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen sadness etched as deeply on faces, and that sadness, and the waves of sadness and remembrance, joy for two lives lived and unfathomable grief for their ending, became a proxy for me to come to understand more about Josh and Oliver. I didn’t know them but, through the eyes of others, I came to know their radiant reflections.
I have thought of Josh and Oliver many times a day in the weeks since, and I’ve been working to try to find a way to channel those feelings away from two dimensional sadness into three dimensional promise. Karri pointed the way in her words at the gathering:
Since the accident, Shea said many have asked her what they can do to help her and her three-year-old son Linden.
“Here’s my answer: Please don’t let their deaths be only a senseless tragedy,” Shea said.
“Let them be a call to action and a catalyst for a change that you make in your life. For Prince Edward Island, for the world. Plant a tree, donate blood, put solar on your roof, buy an electric car.
“Build a bike path, Charlottetown.”
Shea also urged supporters to “love wildly and with abandon” in memory of her son Oliver.
Last week, on Saturday, I was heading to the Farmer’s Market by myself. It was slightly overcast, but not raining. Spring was in the air. So I pulled my bicycle out of the basement, pumped up the tires, and rode up University Avenue to the market, rather than taking the car.
Last Monday I stopped at MacQueen’s Bike Shop after my morning school run to talk to them about the possibilities of human-powered transport for getting myself, son, and service dog from downtown to Stars for Life this summer.
On Wednesday I joined the Green Party of Canada and resolved to help get Greens elected federally this fall.
On Friday I offered to join a provincial Green committee that’s setting out to make policy about making policy.
I’ve finally broken the habit of letting the water run while I’m brushing my teeth.
What I have started to do, in my daily life, is that when I’m faced with small forks in my road–take the car or take the bike? watch TV or join a committee? have a nap or call my mother? order pizza or learn to make pizza?–I will take the fork that, while it might be a little harder, require a little more effort, might take me out of the realm of things I’m comfortable doing, is the fork that’s best for my family, my community, and the planet.
In all such decisions, standing at those forks, there’s a little burst of energy needed to launch out of the orbit of habit and comfort.
I’ve come to call that little burst of energy an Underhay.
And that, for me, has been the way forward.