Wrapped up in his arms, the familiar melody of Van Morrison danced throughout our little white house on 221 Vine.
Looking up, I could see the flames from the bonfire in his deep brown eyes. Those eyes held a soul that had a story, a story that I was able to get glimpses of each Sunday night as we sat by that fire. With my head resting against his chest, I listened... I listened to the steady beating of his heart, a beat that was always there. Steady and strong, just like him. Every single time I ran into those arms... that strong and steady beat brought me back home. Each Sunday night, as we sat by the fire, I would let his beating heart guide me right back to what I knew was true. He brushed through my curly mop of long brown hair, and through the crackling of the fire, he softly said to me; "My first girl, my sweet Katiegirl."
The rhythm of those words, If I close my eyes, I can still feel him saying this simple string of words... Time and time again, those were the words that left his heart, and time and time again it was when I needed them most. He would give me one look, and know exactly what would fuel the fire in me before I ever did. So, in the little moments like those Sunday nights by the fire, that was always the last thing that was said. And, that was all I ever needed to hear.
In those little moments, I knew with all my soul I was the luckiest girl in the world. When this world went quiet, I, Katie Kiernan Harper, got to have this Larger than Life spirit all to myself. Those simple words were spoken through my Dad, but they came from God. They were a reminder that there is so much more to this life, there is so much more to the breaths I am breathing, and the steady beating of my heart. With those words, came a reminder of the beauty that each soul is, and the power that we have on this earth, to love, and to be loved; through and through. To love, and to be loved.
That is what his soul did. With each beat, each breath, he loved. Now, with tears in my eyes, I brush over the last words that left his spirit before the day, on September 11th, 2013, that the steady, strong beating of his heart, a beat that time and time again led me home, went to go be home, with God.
Holding his last words in my hand; "You will always be my first girl, my Katiegirl."
Rereading them over and over. His voice still so clearly whispering these words to me… I stared at these words, now framed on my wall. And each time I read them, I am reminded of the beautiful soul that spoke them. These were the last words my hero will ever hold for me. Letting the tears fill my eyes, I memorized the strokes that his pen made when he wrote the last words he would ever say to his baby girl. Writing these words, he had no idea those would be his last... but God knew. God gave me that Sunday night whisper from his heart, one last time, in writing. On this day, Tuesday September 11, 2018, it has been 5 years after the beating of your heart stopped dad. And, it is on this day, that I will write the words that I know with all my being will make it back to you, and be the words that I want to touch your soul above.
Your sweet Katiegirl is 20 years old now. Gosh, Dad, I would be all over you for ever calling me that in front of my friends, but I know you know that deep down I would love it more than anything... anything. Dad, you would be so proud of your beautiful, strong-spirited wife. You picked a fighter. She is incredible. She is holding Team Harper in the palm of her hand, and she is still madly in love with you and devoted to the Team you have built together. She has a fire in her that I know you both kindled together, and it is a fire that will never ever burn out. She is the definition of walking Grace. You would be so proud of Jack. Your spirit is alive in him. He has your laugh, your amazing gift of story telling that brings everyone together, and he definitely has your love for any and every party. He entices every room he walks in, just like you. And, Dad, he has your gift. He has your gift of making each person feel truly seen in every single moment of being with him. Your heart will be so happy with this one too Dad. You would be in awe of Maddie Flynn. She is one of the most incredibly gifted spirits I have ever met. She has a grace about her that you would be so proud to see. She has your eyes, and Dad... she is absolutely fearless. You have a team of fighters Dad. Your Team is here. We are alive, and you are alive in us. Every. Single. Day.
Dad, I know I can no longer hear your voice, I can no longer hold those hands, I can no longer have your arms wrap me up, and look into those deep brown eyes lined with wrinkles from your radiant laugh. I can't call you on the phone, or see your face light up as I open the door to you. I can't have you right here, pushing me to be better, to fight for this life with all that I have. I don't have your incredible mind to pick apart or your infectious spirit to enjoy God's life with. I can't hear the booming of your voice as you light up the lake house, or 221 Vine with every heart you encounter, inviting them over. And, one of the things I miss most... is honoring you. Honoring the spirit you are and the way you touched this world every single day... I don't get to point you out with the crowd of smiling people around you and say;
"See that guy right there? Yeah, the one that everyone is surrounding with tears in their eyes from laughter or from the pureness of being so moved by his spirit? The guy that is the first person in the room to truly see you, I mean truly see you? The guy that would, and has been, the first one to buy every single person in this bar a drink on him? The guy who is at the top of the stands at every single Lacrosse game screaming "Go 41" with no need for a megaphone? The guy who works day and night on the road to give his family everything he didn't have growing up? The guy who chose, with his wife, to build a family that would serve one another and this world as a team; naming it "Team Harper"? The guy who has an energy that is contagious, a mind that is absolutely fascinating, a spirit that will leave yours radiating, and a soul deeper than any I have ever known on this earth? Yeah that guy, Mike Harper? You know him? Of course. Well, let me tell you something… that guy right there, that guy is my dad."
I don't get to do point those things out anymore. But, by the grace of God alone, Dad. By the grace of God, you have never been more alive. I have never been more proud to be your little girl, and watch all the beautiful ways you touch this world even after your spirit has left. I am honoring you, with every single breath I breathe, but in a must different way; in God's way.
There is not a single moment you are not here. You are everywhere. You are in me. You are in those I love. You are in each 41 I see. You are in every single moment of this incredible story that is unfolding before my eyes.
Now, 5 years later, I hold onto the last of the words you wrote all those years ago. I repeat them, sit with them, feel them with all I have... I pray to you and God with every last ounce of my soul… And, through God, your words appear in the breaths of each person in my life as they shed light into my heart. Your heart is in the morning sunrises that I wake up for at the lake, you are in each and every single one of the "41"s I see, each MDH Green Band, you are alive in the moments I look at every piece of my life that has been beautifully built before me. You are in our Team, in each one of us, and when we gather around the table and pray to you and God, I can feel you with every ounce of my soul, you have never, ever been more alive.
You are Larger than this Life Dad. No amount of breaths can define the words you have spoken on this earth, and the stories you will teach me till the last beat of my heart. Your life goes beyond the beats of your heart, and it is now, watching this beautiful story unfold that I get to call my life, that I see it, I see it so clearly. I feel you, I can feel your soul and spirit and in those moments, with the glimpse of a 41, or a look in the eyes of someone I love, I know that this is all temporary, and it is what we do with each moment that becomes our legacy, and becomes apart of the story we write even after our hearts are no longer beating.
At the end of this day, as hard as this day is, and as hard as some days on this earth will be, I will fight for this life. I will fight with every breath I breathe to see God's story in this. I will fight to feel you in the beats of my own heart, and every heart around me. I vow to honor you, and the words you left this world with because when the world gets quiet again, I will still have your Larger than Life spirit all to myself again, always.
I love you, dad, always and endlessly.
Your first girl, your Katiegirl.
To every heart that reads this... On this day, September 11th 2018, in honor of the most beautiful soul I have ever known, I am going to leave you with the last words that he left me with;
I dare you to fall in love with your life, truly in love. I dare you to take a moment, stare down a blank piece of paper, and see what spills out of your heart. I dare you to see what your soul and spirit have the power to create, for you never know who will hold onto your words even after you run out of breaths to create them.
No matter who you are, your story… is your own. You are a good and loving person. You, with every single breath that you breathe, hold the pen… and have been given these breaths to write an incredible story. Chase your Dream. Love one another, and don't you dare ever forget... Live Large.