In Loving Memory of Abigail Cortese (1987-2009)
On this page is my tribute to the late Abby Cortese. She is a 21-year-old woman who grew up in Buena Vista and tragically died in a car accident near Granite one week ago. As you see, Mt. Princeton is included in the image above. Special thanks to Tony Hill of Colorado Springs, a friend of the Cortese family, for creating this beautiful image with Abby and allowing me to post it on this page.
My Tribute To Abby
You can read the very beautifully written and entire obituary of Abby Cortese here, but allow me to quote one paragraph that completely rung true with me in my experiences with her:
"Every person Abby came in contact with was touched in some way, whether you knew her for five minutes or for five years. She loved people selflessly and encouraged so many. She kept in touch with everyone she knew."
I can completely attest to this. Allow me the space to tell you just how much Abby was a blessing in my life.
There is a saying that goes something like, "I may not remember your name or what we talked about, but I will always remember how you made me feel." So many of my memories and interactions with Abby are not quite as precise as I would like them to be, and this drives the devout chronicler in me a little crazy, but what sticks out so clearly is how she made me feel. I always felt loved and respected by Abby. Abby made me feel like I was important.
I moved in Buena Vista in October 2005, and upon spending time regularly at Bongo Billy's, a coffee shop on the main highway, I began to meet the Cortese family. First I met Jesse, the oldest son of the six kids, who worked behind the counter. Soon after, I met most of the other kids (Jesse, Luke, Ruth, Abby, Sam and Anna) and parents (Tony and Donna) in one fashion or another. Abby and I would usually talk, however briefly, any time I saw her.
I remember seeing Abby at weekly meetings of the Clearview Community Church Youth Group, where I briefly volunteered for a short time. When it seemed like most high school juniors and seniors were "above" attending youth group, Abby was consistently in attendance. My initial impression of her was it was clear she loved God with all her heart and was serious about living it out.
In 2006, Abby and I linked up on our myspace pages (and later, facebook). This might seem like a small thing, but Abby always made an effort to interact with me online. We bantered in our comment sections, whether we discussed hardcore music and the songs on her profile, her latest skiing/snowboarding adventure or the latest scenic Colorado pictorial I created for the web. We talked about New Jersey (both of our families are from there), how she was growing her hair long at one point and the quality of our gym workouts. Fun stuff.
Abby and I worked out at the same gym. In fact, when I joined Peak Fitness Center in Fall 2006, Abby was an employee there.
During late 2006, when my counseling practice was really busy and cashflow was solid, I considered hiring an assistant. I needed someone to handle various tasks, especially when I traveled for long periods of time. When I thought about possible candidates, Abby immediately came to mind. She was the most reliable, responsible and honest young person I knew. One day at the gym I asked Abby if she wanted to work for me, but she declined. She already had two jobs and I think she shared she was going on a big trip - the first of many interesting missions and adventuresome trips she would make.
For 2007 and 2008, Abby did a lot of traveling and so did I. Still, I would see her at the gym from time to time, and there was a period for a month or two in the summer of 2007 when we seemed to work out at the gym at the same time of day on a regular basis. Frequently we would be next to each other on the treadmill, and we would talk about whatever. I remember her telling me about some of the traveling plans she had. I was so proud of her. And partly envious.
Now let me tell you something about myself that might better highlight how much I appreciated Abby's kindness. As a single 37-year-old man, if I were to be completely honest, I'd say one of my weaknesses about living in Buena Vista is that I never quite feel like I fit in. I really do have some good friendships, but generally speaking, meaningful interactions with others are rare and special. I have little in common with most older folks and retirees ahead of me in age. Those in my age category (upper 30's or so) are mostly busy with their marriages, parenting and family responsibilities; It is often too difficult to build close relationships with them. And younger people in their 20's often seem standoff-ish with me, or come off as "too cool" to acknowledge me or to do hikes and other activities with me. I was a junior in high school when Abby was born, and so she was clearly in the younger-than-me group.
This is why, in retrospect, Abby's kindness means so much to me. Abby always made the time to acknowledge me. To see how I was doing. To have a genuine conversation about whatever was happening. What a special girl.
When I bicycled across America in Feburary/March 2008, a large conspicuous map of the USA was posted on a bulleting board at our gym. The owners tracked me on a daily basis with a marker, and many gym members tracked the progress of my trip by viewing the map during their workouts. Of course, Abby noticed the map and encouraged me a few times with short online messages on myspace. It meant and still means so much to me that Abby and other friends took such a great interest this major event in my life.
My last interaction with Abby was in August 2008. The laundromat I use is across a narrow street from the gym. As I was driving out of the laundromat, Abby was walking out of the gym. For some, it would be no big deal to wave and keep driving, but there was no way I could do that with Abby. I stopped in the road and we talked. We had not seen each other in awhile alright! She invited me to a gig being performed by someone she knew. My memory is sketchy, but I think it was in Colorado Springs. I told her there was no chance I would attend, because I was about to leave for New Jersey to be with family. She understood. "Just know you're welcome if you happen to be around." Abby was full of kindness as usual.
Above everything else, I will always remember Abby's countenance. Her smile. Her eyes. She radiated the love of Christ. There was something very special about her. "She had something that you wanted" ... Abby was so close to God that you could not help but desire what she had spiritually.
Personally, I gave my life to Jesus Christ when I was 21, and I remember being "on fire" for God like Abby was. There is no question I have done some long-lasting things for Christ over the years, but I must admit that somewhere in my 30's, things have begun to change. I've become consumed with important "life responsibilities" that crowd out my spiritual vitality.
So many burdens have squashed the old Steve. The guy who couldn't stop telling people with enthusiasm about how God had turned his heart alive. The guy who was willing to consider taking on almost any ministry opportunity that came his way. The guy who loved nothing more than to spend an hour or two everyday reading and studying His Word, just to know Him better. Where has he gone?
As I attended Abby's funeral in a large high school gymnasium packed with people, I thought deeply about this. Abby's life challenges me to dare to live better. She challenges me to live out the Christianty I profess more boldly and courageously. I had a taste of what Abby had and I want it again. To love God more. To love others. To be so close to Him. To be radically in love with Jesus.
Thank you Abby. Thank you for impacting my life.
(Written February 2, 2009)
P.S. My sincerest condolences to the Cortese family and all who are deeply saddened by her death.