When I think of Nathan Dodgen, the first thing that comes to mind is the high five (and giant smile) he gave me each time we met. He also gave a high five after successfully completing a work project or performance at the Brookings Harbor Community Theater.
No one ever gave me a high five like Nathan. The celebratory slapping of our palms embodied the happy, joyful soul of this young man.
Nathan died Nov. 28. He was 23. A celebration of his life is scheduled for 2 p.m. today the Church of the Nazarene in Brookings.
Nathan died of an infection of the brain, a complication of a heart condition. He had Down Syndrome, a chromosome disorder that causes mental retardation, a characteristic face and malformations. The disorder didn’t stop Nathan from living a life that his peers, and the rest of us, would envy.
According to Nathan’s family, his heart condition was diagnosed at age 4 and it limited him physically. It didn’t limit his imagination. Dressing up as a pirate, and acting like one, was one of his favorite things to do – starting at young age and continuing until his death. His family and friends often called him “Cap’n Nate” and he not only dressed up as one for many a Halloween, but played pirate roles on local stages and at Brookings’ first Pirate Festival earlier this year.
My time with Nathan was limited to the last two years – mostly while working and attending play rehearsals and performances at the theater. I was impressed with the man’s spirit, work ethic, enthusiasm and kindness.
In the past few weeks, I’ve learned so much more about Nathan, from comments I’ve received from his friends and family, and those posted on his mother’s Facebook page. Susan Dodgen’s page is filled with the obligatory condolences but more so, comments from people expressing their memories and experiences with Nate. I wonder if Heaven has Internet service. I hope so.
Here are just a few of the comments posted on Susan’s page:
“Nathan is in my heart. I will miss him. I will miss his hugs.” – Leanne Hinkle.
“Nathan was such a sweetheart and he always made me feel welcome and cared about at school and church.” – Katlyn Lachesis Voight.
“Nathan was a ray of sunshine at our soup kitchen at St Timothy’s. He also stole everyone’s heart performing at Mr. BHHS. His voice and attitude were so joyous. You knew he was thrilled to be alive and his enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone else.” – Bernie Lindley.
“He didn’t let his challenges get him down, and he approached life with enthusiasm and a positive spirit!” – Robert (director at Pioneer House).
“Last time I saw Nathan, he had just come through the haunted house at Halloween time (he thought it was great). What a treasure he was – and still is – and always will be!” – Dorothy Power.
“He was very special. A kind and gentle soul.” – Alisa Green.
“I’ll tell God he’d better take care of such a great and special guy. You don’t find very many people as caring as Nathan. He really knew how to make people feel loved.” – Shawna Cooper.
Teacher Dianne Cavenass had this to say to Nate mother.
“Susan, when I teach genetics in 7th grade, we look at chromosomes and discuss Down Syndrome. You probably remember me calling you when I had Nathan, because I was worried he might be upset. You laughed and said no, he’d love it. He did indeed! We talked about Trisomy 21, and I projected a slide of a little boy with Down Syndrome. Nathan jumped up and shrieked with glee. You guys! That’s me!
“Every year since, when I teach genetics, I tell my kids about Nathan. I tell them his reaction, and we talk about how important it is to be proud of who you are ... Nathan will forever be part of my efforts to teach not only science, but how we view ourselves and treat each other.”
“So many people in Brookings will miss Nathan and his ever ready smile and love of life. He was an inspiration to us all. His enthusiasm must have burned up at least a few thousand calories a day!” – Cherie Mitchell.
“Anyone who knew Nathan has been touched by him. I think it is impossible not to be.” – Matthew Miller.
“He was such fun to have in class, and what a wonderful and willing helper! He always made me laugh. Heaven is so lucky to have him now.” – JoAnn Reese VanDerschaaf.
“Tyler and I feel blessed to have known Nathan. I know I will never hear “Oklahoma” without seeing him jump up and sing with all his heart and soul.” – Megan Walters.
Nathan’s mother was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, but not altogether surprised by the comments
“Nathan was known all over town. Everywhere he went he made friends, and often greeted them with a hug,” Susan said. “Many people have shown Nathan kindness and he was blessed by their friendship. Our family thanks the community and all of you who knew Nathan for accepting, loving and nurturing this wonderful young man.
“He had 23 full and happy years and we believe his spirit lives on. Maybe we can remember him by being a little kinder, a little more quick to forgive and more apt to give a hug and a smile to someone and, like Nathan, remember to be enthusiastic about the simple things in life.”
For me, the only regrets I have are that I didn’t meet Nathan sooner, and that I didn’t spend more time with him after I did.
I’m sure we’ll meet again, someday. In the meantime, there’s a huge celebration going on in Heaven right now, with everybody there giving Cap’n Nate lots of hugs and plenty of high fives.