Seth.

It’s been hard to get words down on paper, so to speak. I got through a day without – well, not without crying or being upset, but at least without spontaneously combusting in a flood of tears. Which made it feel like it was okay to try to write about it all now.

The last time I talked to Seth on the telephone was July 1st. At least, that’s what my cell phone tells me, along with a duration of 143 minutes. It wasn’t an uncommon length of time for us to be on the phone; in fact, it was almost a regular weekly occurrence to have a call that long, sometimes with shorter calls in-between.

Of course, it didn’t start out like that; we first started talking somewhat regularly last year, while he was undertaking the project of building magical cloud infrastructure for Fedora. I had plenty of breadth of knowledge in that space, and he wanted to get some perspective; I still remember feeling a bit like, “I must appear as though I know more than I actually do,” because here was Seth, this utterly brilliant guy, calling *me*, the Jack of all Trades, Master of None – for a consultation on various technical solutions and thoughts on the health of various communities and projects.

Those first one-on-one conversations contain hilarious memories; instances of us discussing something, followed by him dropping a choice four-letter word, and then pausing:

Seth: “Oh, god, I’m sorry, did I just offend you? I really didn’t mean to if I did. It just sort of happens.”

Me: “I’m pretty sure that it’s not actually possible to offend me. I’m also pretty sure I’ve already used that word about 6 times in the past 10 minutes.”

And so it repeated in following conversations; eventually, I must have convinced him that I really wasn’t bleaching out my ears after our phone calls.  He didn’t ask anymore, but then again, we discovered there was plenty of other discussion to be had.

There was something — well, many things — lovely about talking to Seth, at least for me. We’re both fairly… well.. highly cynical; I never had to double-check to make sure that he understood that I said something in sarcasm; and yes, it’s nice to talk like a sailor without worry of judgement. That makes for nice, common ground — talk freely as the person that you are.  I could call him with hair-brained idea #482, and he wouldn’t just listen and say, “Mmhmm,”; he would listen to what I was trying to say, ask lots of questions, and translate what I was actually trying to express into appropriate technical terms, and make sure that I understood the ins and outs of those technical things, before we even debated about the merits and woes of said hair-brained idea. He was patient, and kind, and actually gave a shit, and that is a pretty rare thing.

Seth, of course, had plenty of his own things to discuss that he was excited about.  Just a little over a month ago, while I was at Red Hat Summit, someone mentioned to me that Seth was *here* and needed a booth-only pass of sorts, and, oh, that was the coolest thing I had heard ALL DAY. I knew he wasn’t in the house for Summit, but rather, for AnsibleFest – Ansible being a project that he had become particularly fond of – and I had remembered thinking that he reallyreally should go, and I was just tickled pink that he actually was able to make it to an event around something he was excited about.

Selfishly, I was also just delighted to see him, and to have a moment to talk about All The Things in person. As I prepared to go figure out getting him a booth pass, I idly wondered to myself about what I should put on his nametag – and snickered a bit thinking about having it say “Creator of yum” – we had recently had a conversation about how often it was that someone would find out who he was, and that he had made that thing, and proceed to relentlessly ask him about why it didn’t do X, Y, or Z, and did he ever think about various conundrums, etc. And then proceeded to explain his perception of how some people would treat him:

<skvidal> the general attitude that yum has never worked or been functional and that everyone who has ever worked on it is clearly a mouth breathing cousin-brother named cletus

I’m pretty sure I had to apologize for suddenly disappearing from the keyboard — no no, I’m not bored or distracted, I just had tears of laughter rolling down my face to the point that I couldn’t type or function or do anything but laugh. A mouth breathing cousin-brother. OMG. I laughed, and laughed, despite it not actually being funny at all; I knew it was tiring, something that eats away at your soul a little bit, I knew the feeling.

I wound up putting his actual job title on his badge; he was able to pick it up, and eventually we chatted in a hallway for a bit. We agreed to try and meet up later that night, as Eunice had come up to Boston with him. We had been on the phone just a week or two earlier, and Seth had reported that Eunice was totally excited to meet me, because he had told her that there was another female that cursed a lot!, and both he and she thought we would get along just fabulously, and he relayed my more-profane version of “Hell yes!” back to her, and we all had a good laugh, and were looking forward to meeting at Flock. But now an opportunity presented itself even sooner than Flock, and so we made incredibly loose plans for the evening.

As it happened, he talked so much at AnsibleFest with others that his voice gave out; he texted me and let me know, and I had gotten wrapped up in other things, and it was all going to be fine anyway, because Flock was right around the corner. Sadly, instead I met Eunice at Seth’s service, a rather bittersweet meeting under circumstances none of us ever envisioned.

I know it sounds cliche to say, “It was a lovely service,” but it really was; it was meant to be a celebration of his life, and certainly lived up to that. It’s funny how you can think you know someone *so well* – and find out that there was so, so much more. Seth was just as much an institution of sorts in more than just Fedora; it was also the cycling community, the local foodie community, his neighborhood.  Stories from former co-workers, classmates, friends in every area of his life that he was passionate about, about the times they shared, the times he helped them out, the time he always took to listen, intently, as friends do.

And the photos. So many. Not just the photos from his youth, which we all peered at, getting the sense of him as he was growing up, and being able to recognize the time periods – ah, this was the 80′s, this is definitely the 90′s, perhaps this is high school or college years for him. Streaming on the projector were more recent photos; Eunice enjoys photography a LOT, and the screen clicked slowly through photos of him, time-delayed photos of them together, bicycling, eating, cooking, enjoying life.

One photo in particular was noticeable enough for me to remember; a picture of Seth, taken from above, his head resting face-up in her lap. And you could see the look of  happiness on his face; a bit of twinkle in his eye, a broad smile on his face, but not of an ordinary, “Smile for the camera!” type of look. He’s not looking at the camera, he’s looking at the photographer — with a look that is the unmistakable look of absolute, joyful love. The kind of love that everyone should be so lucky as to have.

Seth never half-assed anything. He put 200% of himself into the things he cared about, and the people he cared about, which is why he was such an integral fixture in all of the communities in which he participated, and he cared about doing those things right, and fairly, and really, with love.

I talked to Seth a bit on IRC on that Crappy Monday; I was on vacation, but had a few things I wanted to pick his brain on, and he wanted to hear them, and we planned to talk Tuesday morning. I think about all of the phone calls we did have; the number of times where we were just about done talking, and needed to go to dinner, or to tend to other things going on, but he’d say something like, “Oh, one other thing,” in that pointed manner in which he spoke, or – as so many others have mentioned – would ask me, “How *are* you doing, by the way? Are things okay? Are you good?” – and it would be another  5 minutes before the things on hold were actually now delayed, and we’d *really* hang up. Why didn’t I just pick up the phone and call him anyway? Would that have been the 5 minutes that delayed the entire course of his day, that day? Because that phone call, tomorrow, didn’t happen, of course.  Oddly, even though I know he’s no longer with us, I still find myself chewing over things and suddenly having the thought of wanting to call him, because I REALLY want to share something, and then after that miniscule moment of  - I don’t know if it’s forgetfulness or just simply being wishful – I realize, I can’t. Ever.

What *was* the last call — those 143 minutes, where I remember distinctly hanging up and thinking to myself, “Wow, that was a short call for Seth and me,” and then looked at the clock and said, “Oh, that wasn’t short at ALL,” and chuckled to myself about how easily the time passes — oddly, I remember that part distinctly, but the rest of the conversation, not so much. I do remember the very, very last part of the conversation though, just before we hung up; I can’t remember how we got there, but basically, we were debating the ways to lay down the law, and the different attitudes one can take in doing so, and we spent an eternity trying to remember the name of a long-since-heard-from person who was particularly abrasive. After googling for that person’s, well, particular function at that long-since-past point in time, in combination with the word “asshole,” we breathed a sigh of relief at knowing the name, that it wasn’t going to irritate us individually all night long, laughed that it was the first match on google. And then Seth said:

“You know, sometimes I think the world needs more assholes.”

I forget what I said; I’m pretty sure it was something to the effect of the world having enough assholes already.

What I would say now is: The world needs more Seth Vidals.  People who live life to its fullest, people who *actually really care*  about causes, and individuals, and take the time to listen, and to do, and to act. And while I can wish with all my might to just simply have one, just one Seth Vidal, THE one Seth, back in all of our lives, it won’t happen; what I do know is that, whether it’s my forgetfulness or wishful thinking, I’ll still have those times that I’ll want to call him, and I  know that I can still use those moments to think about what he’d likely say.

Miss you, Seth, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow, even if only in my head.

One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I only had the pleasure of chatting with Seth on a few occasions via email and he was always everything you’ve described. IIRC, the last we talked it was about ansible since he’d mentioned on the fedora-devel list something about. I picked his brain coming from a puppet background but not really caring for anything ruby, especially with a python alternative. (I don’t think ansible was around when I jumped into those waters.) I was impressed with his passion and helpfulness and surprised by how much he reminded me of myself.

    I wish I could have known and worked as closely with him as you did. To learn he was such an avid cyclist (I hadn’t known until the sad news flash) and foodie only increases the sense of loss as I’m all those things too.

    I’m sure the wounds go deep, but find peace in the fact that you *did* get to know him as well as you did. :-)

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