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Christopher and the Purple Thread

I wrote this story to try to describe the late, great, and beloved Christopher W. Turner’s amazing life (at his family’s request). I have truly never been more honored to be asked to do something. (Thank you again so much, Rachel, for letting me be part of this.)

I’ve known Christopher for about 15 years and had his life intersect with mine in a whole host of different ways. I am so grateful for the gift that his life was to me and to so many people I love. I tried to tell a story that felt like the type I heard him tell many times. I truly felt his presence and inspiration as I wrote. I will love him forever.

Christopher Turner

A long time ago in a far off land named Connecticut, a tall thin man stuck out this thumb. Cars whizzed by, carrying with them the whole range of typical reactions to spotting a hitchhiker: aloofness, guilt, mocking superiority, embarrassment, judgment, disdain, indifference. Little did they know. Little indeed.

The day grew hot. Drivers zooming past caught a blurry glimpse of the man stretching deeply and smiling broadly, as if he was preparing himself for something. If they’d passed by much more slowly, they’d have caught the twinkle in his eye and heard the crackle of his laughter as he arched his back, spread his hands to the sky, and began to dance.

Car after car after car after car they all drove by, but the man kept dancing and smiling. They laughed, they rolled their eyes, they glowered, but he kept dancing.

And then: sssssSSHSHSHSHHHHHH! A steaming car crested the hill with a cloud in tow. The car slowed, gravel crunching as it pulled over, just a stone’s throw from the hitchhiker’s asphalt dancefloor.

The hood release popped with a familiar “crr-chnk!” as the tall thin man approached the car.

“Need some help?” The hitchhiker said with a smile to the car’s emerging driver.

“Blasted radiator hose keeps coming loose,” the driver grumbled back.

The hitchhiker grinned, thrust his hand into his knapsack, and pulled out his canteen and a spool of purple thread. He pulled the hood open, poured the rest of his water into the radiator, reattached the hose, and wound his purple thread around the joint, cinching it tight. The driver gave the hose a skeptical tug. It stayed in place.

“Well, I’ll be—” the driver said. “Thanks!”

“Sure thing. I’m Christopher,” said the man, sticking out his hand. The driver shook it heartily and said, “Nice to meet you! Need a ride?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Christopher replied.

As the weeks, months, and years rolled by, Christopher hitchhiked and danced his way across the country, laughing and helping whoever he happened to meet, always stringing out a bit of purple thread along the way.

Eventually, he met a woman named Nancy and the two braided their threads together, making each other’s spools stronger and better. They put roots down deep in the rich Eastern Washington soil and brought up a multigenerational crop of dancers: Theresa, Rachel, Sandrina, Jamall, Taysha, Landy, Emily, Christopher, Adelynn, Theo, Madelynn, and Oriana. They grafted Loran, Adam, and Bill into their line, too.

Christopher continued to dance through life, spinning ropes courses out of his thread and leading people on adventures of self discovery and collaboration. He used his purple thread to tie teams and communities together in workshops and with his teaching. He held audiences “spoolbound” with his storytelling. He even sewed himself a priest’s collar and used his purple thread to stitch together wounded hearts.

Over time, it became commonplace to see people’s fingers tied with telltale purple string—reminders of all the wisdom Christopher had imparted through his consulting, his teaching, and as a friend and mentor. Many of us came to recognize each other as students of this dancing man with the purple thread.

There was no difference between work and play for Christopher—whether he was working to impart wisdom or spending time hunting, fishing, playing video games, cleaning up at poker, or leading people through a Dungeons and Dragons experience, his laughter and love and compassion were ever present. He always seemed to have unlimited time to do exactly what he needed to do. And wherever he went, whatever he was doing, he was always dancing and giving out purple thread.

But one day the thread began to run out.

His family and friends encouraged him to conserve his thread, but Christopher knew better. He just kept giving it out. He simply couldn’t stop dancing and laughing and sharing. The more precious and rare his thread became, the more he continued to spool it out to whoever needed it.

One day, the last purple fibers trickled to an end and Christopher breathed his last. He said his final words with a smile, “Don’t forget to look for me.”

Our hearts were broken. The world felt like it had lost a richness and depth it would never have again. There were countless tearful eyes, aching hearts, and heads bowed in sorrow. The pain of losing Christopher was just too much. But then we felt the tug—as if an invisible thread had woven all of our hearts together, and something was pulling on it, urging us to look up, to look out.

And that’s when we saw it.

Purple thread everywhere we looked. But now it was sprouting. It was growing! And not just purple thread, but a million other colors, too.

As one of the students of this amazing dancing man, I too have kept the purple thread of Christopher’s wisdom tied on my fingers. But on that day, I looked into my hands and saw an entire spool of navy blue begin to emerge unbroken from the purple thread of Christopher’s wisdom. Then I saw Christopher’s family and friends each holding their own colorful spool sprouting from his purple thread: golden yellows, vivid teals, crimson.

Christopher had done something more profound than weave together our hearts, or show us how to celebrate his life, or even how to see him when he was gone—though he certainly did all of those things.

He taught us how to see the spool we each carry. And to know that in every instant when we live in the moment, when we celebrate life, when we live wholeheartedly and generously, we honor the man who laughed and danced and hitchhiked through all of our hearts—the man who shared his thread and taught us to see our own.

And taught us to share it.