Remembering Chris Lang
Back in 1978, my favorite babysitting clients gave me a $10 gift certificate to Sooto Records for my fourteenth birthday. With Mom at the wheel, I immediately rushed out to purchase Billy Joel’s hit “The Stranger.”
A teenaged girl with the musical taste of a 40-year-old accountant, I loved that snappy B side hit “Only the Good Die Young,” belting out the lyrics. Clueless, I’m singing about a Catholic girl’s virginity. That’s the attraction of a good song — one shapes the lyrics to fit your purpose. And honestly, examining the concept of ‘only the good die young’ was rather unsettling, being only in eighth grade, and considering my behavior quite good indeed.
Fast forward a few years and the nuances of the song became clear. “C’mon, Virginia. Don’t make me wait.” In other words, don’t be good, or you’ll die young. Cryptic message. I chose to focus on the catchy melody.
Oddly enough, in the wake of one of the most heartbreaking losses our city has recently witnessed — the swift and unexpected passing of Chris Lang, a beloved husband and father of two — the true meaning of this phrase becomes inescapable.
Our friend and neighbor Chris Lang was only 55-years-old when he suffered a sudden fatal incident, his faithful dog Hazel by his side. While a child might consider that “old,” most adults tend to think of those double nickels as a wee bit past adolescence. Undoubtedly Chris Lang, physically fit and a far cry from sedentary, did too.
When “the good ones” like Chris Lang leave us, no matter their actual age, we feel the departure can’t be real. Too much sand remained in his hourglass. Who rewrote the script without our permission or even a heads up?
Even as we struggle through a global pandemic, we still cling to the notion we’re in charge. Then something like this happens. Wait. What? The server grabs the plate, but we’re not done eating.
The community feels it’s inner-toddler passionately screeching “just five more minutes!” as the parent insists it’s time to leave the playground. Any good playdate is just getting started once it’s time to wrap.
A child’s playground circles my thoughts back to Chris Lang as a parent. One of my first meetings with Chris and his wife and soulmate Kirsten involved a kindergarten birthday party he organized for their daughter Julia, now a freshman at Santa Clara University.
Chris and Kirsten designed an Indy 500 obstacle course with Big Wheels trikes for Julia’s miniature guests at Rancho Laguna Park. As a seasoned mother, I had seen my share of children’s birthday parties, but this one was by far one of the most clever and appealing, equally to both genders.
“Chris loved creating gamesmanship,” his close friend Sean Hogan shared. “If we were playing Ping-Pong, he’d insist all players switch their paddle hand and play left-handed.” Hogan described how Chris channeled his love of friendly competition into co-founding a phenomenally successful cornhole tournament for dads, one of the most profitable and beloved fundraising events in the history of the Glorietta School auction, easily generating $7,000 to $8,000 annually.
Hogan attributed the enduring success of this tournament to Chris’ decree that each cornhole team be randomly selected and comprised of fathers who did not know one another beforehand. A true community-builder, “Chris wanted new friendships to form,” Hogan recalled.
An enthusiastic and devoted father, Chris delighted in supporting the endeavors of his son Spencer and daughter Julia, both of whom were active in numerous extracurriculars at Glorietta, OIS and Miramonte. He was a board member of the Miramonte Boosters Club, a CYO and Miramonte Men’s JV Basketball coach, a Meadow Swim and Tennis Club member for many years, and a passionate Cubs fan, among countless other activities and interests – enlarging his wide circle of friends accumulated in both his social and professional life as co-owner of a property and casualty insurance firm.
Chris Lang led the type of life befitting a tribute, not just an obituary. All of us, one day, will likely have an obituary, a synopsis of our life and accomplishments published online or in the newspaper, alongside a flattering portrait that may or may not accurately portray how we looked in our last few years. In this high-achieving community we call home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on items pertaining to an obituary: awards accumulated, prestigious schools and affiliations, impressive lineage.
And believe me when I say, any time I throw out observations such as this, it’s not in judgement, rather a pot-kettle moment where I have first noticed the tendency in myself.
This is not to say that Chris didn’t have worthy accolades. He knocked it out of the park in every aspect of his person. But here’s the secret sauce: Chris lived the kind of life that merits spontaneous tribute, verbal 21-gun salutes, humble word-statues built with the respect and devotion of family and friends left behind.
His life created such a positive presence in this community that his memory will be conjured every single time a good thing happens – the crack of a bat, the swish of the net, Springsteen softly playing on a Monday afternoon, the rhythmic churning of the waves at Seascape, the chipper hop of a blissfully re-homed shelter dog, men laughing together over beer and left-handed ping-pong fails – Chris Lang will shine on.
Perhaps by leaving us too soon, Chris’ unique wisdom can become a beacon. Life is naturally full of competition, but can’t we at least make it fun – a source of fellowship instead of angst? Chris Lang carved us a trail; now all we need to do is follow.