This is a story about life, death, family, and finding one’s place in the world.
My Uncle Andy was the cowboy of the family.
A few weeks ago, we learned he passed away at the age of 72.
Nothing quite stops you in your tracks like a death in the family, even if you never knew the person as well as you would’ve liked.
Despite receiving the news over a week ago, his passing didn’t hit me fully until this morning, after my parents had a chance to fly out there and hold a funeral for him.
The year was 1973, three years before I was born.
Andy, in his mid-30’s, decided to leave New York to start a new life in the American Southwest.
He chose Kingman, Arizona, a town of just 28,000 people located along the famed Route 66 highway, 85 miles southeast of Las Vegas, and 165 miles northwest of Phoenix.
There he lived, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, for the next 40 years.
Andy’s friends described him as a smart man, but that wasn’t news to us. We’ve always known he had a genius IQ, which at times would make his life choices all the more perplexing.
One thing I can’t fault him for is finding a place in the world he loved, and having the courage and determination to make a life for himself there.
Subconsciously, perhaps, it was this independence streak in my Uncle which contributed to my desire to travel the world, and have the courage to start a new life in Medellin more than five years ago.
Andy marched to the beat of his own drummer. He wasn’t too good at staying in touch, and had little desire to return for visits to the East Coast.
My best memories of him are from a family vacation we took to Arizona when I was a kid, around 10 or 12 years of age.
We flew into Phoenix, and began our sightseeing in Scottsdale. From there we traveled north, meeting him in Sedona.
Not only did he have the spirit of a cowboy, he dressed the part too, complete with hat and bolo tie.
His car of choice was a VW Thing, painted camouflage green.
[All these years later, he still owned it, and it’s still in running condition.]
We visited some of America’s most beautiful sites, including the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and the Painted Desert, before accompanying him back to Kingman.
It was there, in his home town, that he brought a few guns from his collection over to our motel to show us kids.
At the time of his death, his collection numbered over 200, including 31 Single Action Colt Revolvers, and numerous rifles.
Every Wednesday night, he’d get together with friends on the outskirts of town, and they’d hold target practice together.
They’d cook dinner over an open fire, and debate politics or talk about whatever was on their minds that week.
He even made his own ammunition. And a lot of it, according to the company which was tasked with cleaning out his home.
From Kingman, we waved goodbye to Andy, and traveled to Laughlin, across the Hoover Dam, and ultimately, on to Las Vegas, from where we flew back to the East Coast.
As much as I don’t know about my Uncle Andy, I do know he wasn’t afraid to live life on his own terms.
He found a part of the world where he felt comfortable, and happy, and committed his life to it. If I can take solace in anything, it’s knowing he was happy there.
If there’s one thing I try to do through this blog, it’s encourage others to do the same, whether that’s living amongst the hustle of New York City, the suburbs of Virginia, a desert town in Arizona, or another country altogether.
Andy’s passing has given me pause to reflect on what matters most in my life.
And it’s not all the minutiae I tend to get swept up in every day, like how much money I’m making, how many countries I’ve visited, or how many people are visiting my websites.
It’s not whether or not I’ve crossed everything off my bucket list, or planned the next trip to some exotic locale.
What matters most to me are relationships, and the way I choose to treat others.
Is it with honesty, respect, and compassion? Am I helping people?
If I were to die tomorrow, I would want my family, friends, and readers to know I was happy here in Medellin.
In the years ahead, it’s possible the city and country will change, but like my Uncle Andy, I now know how personally satisfying it feels to etch out a new life in a place that serves to inspire one on a daily basis.