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Archive for October, 2008

The SBCAG today voted unanimously to recommend that Caltrans move forward with their construction of a permanent barrier on the Cold Spring Arch Bridge. Many people obviously worked very hard to make this happen and it was an inspiration to see Matt’s mother, my Aunt Karen, deliver her incredibly moving and powerful speech despite extremely difficult circumstances. More than anything else, I think that her words made it clear to everyone with a conscience that the cost to all of us if this project were abandoned would be unbearable. Special thanks should also go to my sister, Jenny, for the highly effective organization of her exceptional research at stopthetragedy.org and her great idea to set up what turned out to be an exceedingly successful petition, amassing an impressive 290 signatures in just one week.

I was extremely moved by the testimony given by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Bill Brown’s presentation made it painfully clear that the lack of a barrier at this bridge poses a continuing threat to the physical and psychological well-being of local safety personnel. This point was of crucial importance to one SBCAG member who voted in favor of the barrier for solely this reason. Dr. Lisa Firestone of The Glendon Association debunked false arguments made by opponents of the barrier and also showed video testimony by Kevin Hines, a survivor of a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge and living proof that most people who attempt suicide by jumping are seeking a permanent solution to a temporary problem and deserve the chance to take a different course of action.

Congratulations to everyone. It is such a huge relief to know that something will be done to prevent more people from being lost to this bridge.

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My name is Par Ridder and I’m a friend of Matt’s from San Luis Obispo but now live in Matt’s hometown of Minneapolis.

Matt could always make me laugh. There was more to Matt than a great sense of humor but I wanted to share a few stories about Matt that make me smile.

I met Matt about 8 years ago at a mid-state fair dinner. The group was made up of all farmers and ranchers and my wife spotted Matt and his friend Lynn, that didn’t seem to be either, so we set out to sit with them. The dinner was a series of long speeches where no act was too trivial to be recognized. I thought to myself this is going to be a long evening. I looked over and Matt said “Good God this is never going to end!” It wasn’t a long evening, Matt made us laugh all the way through and after that we became friends.

Matt and I would go to the mid-state fair every year to see the big concert of the fair. One year John Cougar came to the fair. Matt said he didn’t see any scenario where he would go to a John Cougar concert. I reminded him that John Cougar, like U2, was an 80s band whose best days were behind them but… “Stop right there,” He said, “Don’t ever bad mouth the greatest band in history.” He had his passions and U2 was one of them.

Another was his dog Lucy. He spoiled that dog to such an extent that I don’t think Lucy realizes she’s a dog. I say that because he brought Lucy over to our house one day and I put Lucy in the back with our dog and Lucy kept scratching at the door and looking at Matt like there has been some sort of terrible mistake. “Why am I in the back yard with this dog?” I told him his dog was over-humanized but he disagreed. “That is not it,” he said. He said he doesn’t make a big deal about it but his dog is just cooler than every other dog. I must say that never occurred to me.

Matt would always ask me for advice but never took it. I would ask him why he didn’t take my advice and he would always have a smart aleck reason. He could be sarcastic about a lot of people. However there were some people in his life that walked on water. One of those was his mother. She was his hero.

He told me she was “just a housewife” in Minneapolis and then one day she started walking then running around the block, then the lake, then the town. He was enormously proud of how she evolved from “just” his Mother to a tri-athlete, marathoner and then CEO. Matt was not built to brag but the closest he ever came was talking about his mother. “She went to Wellesley” he would always tell me.

Matt could always make us laugh. He had a wonderful sense of humor. But he also was a good person and I’m grateful to have been his friend.

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When
Thursday, October 16 at 8:30AM

Where
Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors Hearing Room
4th Floor, 105 E. Anapamu Street
Santa Barbara CA 93110

Who
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments

What
To prepare for the hearing you can do the following things:

  • Learn more about the facts surrounding the construction of the barrier at stopthetragedy.org
  • Take a look at the Agenda for the meeting, the Cold Spring Bridge Project Public Hearing is item 9 on the Agenda
  • Regardless of your ability to attend the meeting, please send a letter in support of the barrier to The SBCAG Board of Directors, even though it is important that local residents support the barrier, I do not believe that this is a local issue as people from all over the country, and indeed the world, have been affected by the losses resulting from the lack of a barrier at this bridge, sample letters can be found here

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Please sign this online petition to show your support for the construction of a safety barrier at the Cold Spring Arch Bridge.

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My sister, Jennifer Lake, has constructed a website to present arguments in favor of the construction of a suicide prevention barrier at the Cold Spring Arch Bridge. She also debunks the objections that have been made by the individuals who, despite the obvious need for the barrier, are fighting to prevent its construction. Please visit her website stopthetragedy.org to learn more about her research and to learn what you can do to show support for the suicide barrier and help ensure that it is installed.

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Matt was my big brother. But he was so much more than that to me. He was my best friend, my idol, my hero. We talked and emailed every day, and even though we lived halfway across the country from one another, we saw each other five, six, seven times a year – sometimes more. And that was my brother’s doing – he’d fly out to Chicago on a moment’s notice – when there was a good show in town, for a party, or, more often than not, for no reason at all. And I looked forward to those trips like nothing else, and he never disappointed. We’d have more fun than most people ever allow themselves to have. He was the king of having a good time.

Now, Matt was five years older than me, and because of that our relationship had a bit of a rocky start. Apparently when I was born he was pretty upset that I didn’t pop out a fully-formed five-year-old ready to play with him. As we grew up together, Matt began to appreciate his role in our relationship, forcing me to do his bidding, usually with a good punch in the shoulder for kicks. But of course he was a good big brother. Pop music plays an embarrassingly important role in my life, and I have Matt to thank for that. I was listening to AC/DC when I was 6. And because of Matt I was a true fan. We’re talking Bon Scott-era AC/DC here. But the life-changing moment came in 1984, when I was 9. On a Saturday morning, I was sleeping in (I’ve never been a morning person), and a song, played loudly on my brother’s stereo, passing through our shared wall, seeped into my dreams, honestly providing a soundtrack to a Scooby-Doo cartoon in my mind. I woke up, ran into Matt’s room, where he proudly told me we were listening to “Pretty Persuasion”, a song off of his new R.E.M. record, Reckoning. From that moment on, I was a different person, thanks to my big brother.

Our relationship changed from a sibling bond to a true friendship after I went away to College. Matt drove out to upstate New York from Minneapolis to bring me home at the end of my freshman year. We partied for a couple of days, and then we made the trek to the Midwest, via Canada. As road trips tend to do, it gave us a chance to get to know each other as near-adults, and we discovered that we had a ton in common, and that we actually really, really liked one another.

After I graduated, we took another road trip – through the South with my dear cousins Emily and Jenny. That was an epic trip – one for the books. Little Rock, Graceland, Tupelo, Natches, Memphis. Matt and I laughed so hard at everything – Elvis, our cousins, ourselves. We all bonded quite a bit on that trip. And again Matt and I realized how much we liked each other, how well we got along. It was really then that we realized we were each other’s best friends.

When I married Deb, Matt was my best man. Many of you were there to see his toast – really quite possibly the best toast ever given. Ever. Matt was an incredible speaker – a skill he learned here at Cuesta – and when he took the microphone he dramatically ripped up the speech he had written and did it off-the-cuff. And he let it all out, saying the nicest things anyone could ever say about anybody. It was so touching, so moving, and it’s a memory that will last with me forever.

Like all of you here, I’ve been thinking about Matt constantly these last two weeks. I feel fortunate that I got to have a great weekend with him in Chicago just a few weeks back, another in Maine just before that, and an unforgettable one in Vegas just before that. Over those three weekends, Matt was such a joy to be around, as he always was. He was so smart, so compassionate, and so, so funny. He was easy to talk to, to laugh with – to laugh at – and everywhere we went together, he made things so easy for me. He could engage anyone in a meaningful conversation, and he’d always keep an eye on me, drawing me into his good times. He was so great, yet so modest; he enriched my life beyond words every moment we spent together.

Matt, my best friend, I’m going to miss you so, so much. To quote the Boss, and I truly mean this, “When they made you brother, they broke the mold.”

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I have spent these last few weeks trying to make sense of what happened to my cousin Matt. In fact – like so many of us here in this room – I have hardly thought about anything else. It is inconceivable that someone I loved so much, for so much of my life, could be gone in an instant. In the days after he died, I thought about that moment: the moment that marked the boundary between a time when Matt was still with us, here, in the present, and when, in a fraction of a second, he crossed over into the past. I thought about where I was and what I was doing at that moment, and was shocked to discover that it had been an ordinary stretch of time, like any other. I felt outraged that there had been no sign, no cataclysmic event, to indicate that the world had changed in such a profound and violent way: a clap of thunder would have been appropriate, or, even better, an earthquake; a shifting of the foundations, the ground under my feet, that had once felt stable and secure. I thought, Anything can happen now; anything is possible, now that this impossible thing has happened.

And yet, as difficult as it has been to confront this instantaneous and irrevocable loss, the greater challenge – the real puzzle in all of this, for me – is how to reconcile the Matt I knew with the person who, before dawn on a late summer morning, made a choice that he couldn’t take back. This is the mystery that has preoccupied me every minute since that day, and has left me searching through the details of his life for an explanation; because nothing I knew about him could possibly offer one.

The Matt I knew could see the humor in any situation. In fact, he was the funniest person I have ever known. He could turn the most uncomfortable or painful moment around by calling attention to the awkwardness and absurdity of it through his dry, irreverent wit. If he were here today, he would find a way to laugh. He would use his exceptional talents as a public speaker to say something hilarious and uplifting to us all, and leave us with a reassuring message of hope. Then, afterwards, he would join us at the bar for a beer. Matt knew how to enjoy himself, and took obvious pleasure in the time he spent with the people he cared about. To me, he was the unique and indescribable combination of family member and friend, and every minute I spent with him was cause for celebration.

Although Matt was well-known for his humor, his wit sometimes served to conceal the depth of his feeling and the intensity of his intellect, which revealed themselves in glimpses, through the music he loved, in particular his preference for haunting, melancholy ballads; and the writers he admired and who influenced his own writing, such as Richard Ford, whose work is complex, challenging, and infused with longing. Matt was deeply and selflessly committed to helping others, and this was reflected in both his politics and his professional life. He was an outspoken and unapologetic liberal who believed in offering assistance to those in need, and he held to this belief in principle and in practice. He was passionate about developing educational and career opportunities for the young people of San Luis Obispo county, and although he accomplished a great deal on their behalf, he never spoke about his work in terms of his own achievements; his reward came from observing the success of those he advised and taught. He was motivated, above all, by kindness, compassion, and empathy for those around him.

Perhaps most importantly, the Matt I knew would have taken the advice he would have given to anyone in this room: to reach out, to share the burden, to seek help from those of us who were so willing to provide it. He would have known how much he meant to his family, his friends, and his community, and how much we all loved him. He would have known how much I loved him.

What sense, then, can I make of what happened to Matt? How can I put these facts together – the fact of who he was, and the fact of the choice he made? The answer, simply, is that he was in pain; for whatever reason, he was in more pain than any of us realized. And pain has a way of taking over; of taking possession of every thought; of making your choices for you; of drowning out the truth so that you can’t see the other parts of your life: your talents, your worth, and the people who love you unconditionally and would do anything to help you. Pain has its own voice, and it lies.

Matt’s pain is over now; but the person he was is still with us, in those of us who loved him. He will continue to inspire us, to remind us of the humor and absurdity of life, of how to give selflessly, how to enjoy ourselves, how to laugh, and how to appreciate the people we love. These are the qualities I admired most in the Matt I knew; and my memory of the person he was is true, and unalterable, and needs no explanation. This memory will always be with me, even if he can’t be.

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