This is the picture that most reminds me of my friend A.J. Gooch, and it is the gift from him I cherish the most.
A.J. took it at the Summerland Festival in 2010. We were dancing to the Saturday night band right after Nick had asked me to be his date to the wedding of Michael Dangler and Maggie Collins. We had only started seeing each other long distance about a month before. We weren’t even officially a couple at this point! But A.J. could clearly see that we were falling in love, and he beautifully captured this absolutely perfect moment. He later told me how proud he was of this shot and how much it meant to him to have been able to capture that moment. And when we got engaged we were so very honored and grateful to A.J. for offering to take pictures for us on our wedding day. He was of course already invited, but there was no one better suited or whom I would have trusted more to capture our love on that most important occasion.
In Facebook memorial posts so many people have spoken about his warmth and his hospitality—about how A.J. always made them feel welcome. My experience with A.J. was the same. When A.J. shown the light of his eyes and his smile upon you, you couldn’t help but feel special. One of A.J.’s greatest gifts, and he had many, was his ability to See. And he made us feel so welcomed and special because he made us feel seen. A.J. had this conspiratorial way of speaking that made you feel like he was letting you in on the best prank or the most important secret in the world, and you felt so damned lucky that this man thought enough of you to let you in on it. He paid attention to your response and cared how you reacted. While he exuded charisma and appeared larger than life, he was always approachable because unlike a lot of gigantic figures I’ve known, A.J. saw and A.J. listened. A.J. truly cared about the people around him. His sense of humor and zaniness were infused with softness, gentleness, and pure human love. And while we could enumerate so many reasons for calling A.J. Gooch a great man, to me, this ability to listen and to see might be the greatest reason of all.
Farewell my friend. Thank you for seeing me. I will always be a better person for having been seen through your eyes.