Inside Voice

Thank you, Darren Barefoot

My close friend Darren died this past week.

He wrote an excellent (and heartbreaking) message to the world toward the end of his life: They Were All Splendid.

The company he co-founded and ran with his wife Julie Szabo posted the wonderful In Memory of Darren Barefoot.

And many more folks have written warm, thoughtful, caring messages about Darren’s life and what it meant to them. He touched a great many people.

With a few others I had the priviledge of speaking with Darren a few weeks before he died. I knew then that Darren’s time was very limited. Here is what I wrote to share with him.


Hold on Tightly, Let Go Lightly

I started to call this “A life…” and then I thought, no, that’s not enough.

The life. This only life that Darren has. The life that is still here, today, in the present. This present we share with him. Now. Here. What we have is now and here and Darren who is still with us.

And Darren, I still hear your voice in me.

“Ahhh, Julie,” he will start. He’ll hold out his hand and say, “You know, I was wondering.” And I remember now most of all, “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.”

His voice is alive in my head, his presence is alive in my mind, his words are here with us today. And I want this moment I have with you to be a thank you for that presence and that voice.

So thank you, Darren, for your voice.

Thank you for what it said when we walked and talked and wondered aloud about anything that came into our privileged wanderings.

Thank you for teaching me about the love of hermiting yourself away in private while remaining committed to an eminent curiosity about the world.

(Darren once told me that this was basically why he started his blog – to write down his research into the things in the world that tickled his curiosity. If only, he had mused, if only he had some researchers to go out and do the work on all the things that tickled his mind.)

Thank you, Darren, for agreeing in 2006 to our first man date to go fishing to Squamish and for letting me outfit you in poorly fitted waders to catch a few fish. 

(Did you really care about fishing? Enough to give it a go that time and about a half dozen more. Enough to indulge your curiosity.)

We talked in the car on that first fishing trip in a way that men going fishing don’t usually talk. We talked about how the music of Van Morrison touched us even though later he had turned out to be a crank. We talked about our respective stories – both of our parents divorced, each of us partnered up with amazing women early on.

As we set out Darren asked me to drive. “Julie usually does the driving. My eyesight’s not so great and truthfully I don’t really like to drive. I know it’s not masculine to say so, but what can you do?”

There was that voice. There was that willingness to be vulnerable, to trust in me, to not really giving a damn about male posturing. Thank you for showing me that was possible and lovable and honest.

And, “truthfully,” he had said. Truthfully. That’s an adverb I have heard Darren say often, and I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that he is a seeker of truth. A curious puzzler investigating the world.

Around that same time in the 2000s we started working on Northern Voice, a loosely organized conference of idealists, technologists and nerds. Darren fit into each of these categories and showed up to build a community.

“Ahhh, James, I need another business adult to help.” I remember him saying. So long as he can check in and check out as he pleases, Darren loves a group or team event with good people. So long as he can keep his social fuel in check. So long as he always knows where his next meal is coming from.

And thank you, Darren, for showing me too that men can care about fashion and style, though we don’t always agree on what’s fashionable or stylish. I remember well you saying, “Clothes are costumes, costumes are symbols, symbols are powerful.”

Thank you for caring and showing me that these subtle, assumed things are worth paying attention to. Thank you for bringing your sense of theatre to those early events, to our travels together, to my wedding to Monique that you stage directed.

And more recently, to our walks together, always up the block on your route, along Heather Street to Douglas Park and past the kiwi trees we stumbled on. I’d get a coffee, you’d get a hot chocolate. Thank you.

And thank you, Darren for pulling me to new places in the world. In 2005, Pender Island for the first time. In 2006, Keats Island. In the following years: Malta, France, Victoria, France again, Mayne Island, Tofino, Reid Island, Ireland, Spain. I am forgetting others that I loved you for pulling me to.

When we visited you in Malta we roasted a turkey for Christmas and created an alluvial pump to empty your swimming pool. When we lived in Dublin and wanted to visit the Canary Islands, the only people we wanted to travel with were you (and Julie, of course) and you met us there for another Christmas turkey.

In short, thank you for expanding my life with your presence and your voice.

Thank you for the life and adventures you have shared with me and with so many others here today and beyond.

I will always remember your voice and your words and you saying: “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.” And I will do my best to do just that. Thank you.


If you would consider, we have created the Darren Barefoot Legacy Fund to carry on Darren’s good work and extend his values.


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