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Image: Lara Tomlin

I write this note having just returned from a memorial service for my Lamar High School classmate Seth Stone. Seth died on September 30 while skydiving outside San Diego, the victim of a faulty parachute. He was 41 years old, a decorated Navy SEAL Commander who had served in Iraq three times.

I had no idea that he’d chosen this path in life until after he was gone. It had been more than two decades since I’d seen Seth, or heard anything about him at all. When I read about his death on Facebook, it took my breath away.

Here’s what I remember about teenage Seth: He was a drop-dead gorgeous athlete, with a crown of blonde hair and a huge, toothy grin. My freshman year, he shocked the hell out of me by asking me out on a date, to see a play. Today I have no idea which play it was, but I do remember that I wore black jeans and a woven poncho pilfered from my mother’s closet.

I also remember that he gave me a sweet poem on lined paper in blue ink, about two trees growing together into one, which delivered another shock to my high school self. Though our relationship never went anywhere, I was always fond of the bewildering, beautiful, all-American boy who belonged with the head cheerleader, but at least on that one occasion, chose the freckled nerd instead.

As it turns out, Seth made an impression wherever he went. This morning’s memorial service at West University Baptist Church, we were told, was number six of twelve taking place across the world, from San Diego to Hawaii to New Zealand.

And what emerged at the service, during eulogies from his childhood minister, his brother, and a fellow Navy SEAL, was a portrait of a man with many layers. Seth was a seeker who loved writing poetry and songs, painting, playing guitar, surfing, and, definitely, Jesus. He was also a fierce warrior.

Seth led his unit through blood and muck and killing and suffering and never complained. He never believed he had done enough, and so returned to combat again, and again, to battle a cowardly, evil enemy. This, according to his fellow SEAL in an intense address that was very moving and—if I’m honest—a bit frightening for someone like me, so removed from that world.   

But that did nothing to lessen my awe of Seth’s sacrifice. All these years, as I was living my mundane life, he was, unbeknownst to me, fighting for my freedom. That is incredibly profound.

As a sailor played “Taps” on his bugle while standing in front of a stained-glass window, three others unfurled an American flag and then refolded it with great care. Standing before his boots, helmet, awards and decorations, they saluted each other before presenting the flag to his mother. And I cried.

With 2017 coming to a close, the world feels like an uncertain place. But there is one thing I am certain I want to say, in this space, and I hope every Houstonian who picks up this magazine reads it. And that is this: Commander Seth Stone, thank you for your service.

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