Mr. Bill Canegata

Mr. Bill Canegata, Sixth Dan Black Belt, passed away yesterday, December 9, 2009, exactly three years to the day after Anna Bahceci, George Wimpfheimer, and I passed our Black Belt tests.

Mr. Bill lived with cancer for many years. He was a man of great strength who knew how to control pain and discomfort. He never complained. Though Mr. Bill could no longer instruct us, he still showed up at the do-jang every day and watched us progress toward our Black Belts. He gave us advice and helped us with our forms. He came to our promotion test and sat and watched, calm and still as a boulder. When the test was over, he presented us with our new Black Belts and tied them around our waists.

In 1996, my childhood friend Sandra Isham Vreeland died of AIDS after living with HIV for close to fifteen years. She contracted the disease after receiving a blood transfusion. She had two children, and fought to stay alive for them. She died on my birthday, August 5th. I drove out to Sagaponack, LI, for her memorial service. Her mother, Sheila, was also a good friend of mine and I approached her and murmured that I felt horrible that Sandra had died on my birthday. Sheila looked at me with her penetrating, calm blue eyes and said that there could be no greater honor. “After such a long fight,” she said, “she chose your birthday to let go and finally find peace. That was her birthday gift to you.” Sheila probably never knew the enormous impact her words had on me. What amazed me most was that she was able to offer such comfort when she herself must have been in an agony of grief. But Sheila always believed in a power greater than all of us, in some kind of greater meaning and other planes of existence that we cannot perceive. I decided at that moment that I would try to look at death the way Sheila did, and not the way I was taught to, which was with terror and fear.

59  Kaylie_Black Belt test1There is most definitely a weird synchronicity at play in my life. My father’s best friend, Willie Morris, was buried on my birthday in 1999. My godfather, Buddy Bazelon, passed away a few days before my birthday and on the night of August 5th, 1995, we were sitting shiva in my godmother’s apartment. One week later, Kevin and I got married. Thanks to Sheila Isham, I chose to accept these moments as an honor, rather than some kind of punishment, or karmic retribution.

So it seems only appropriate that Mr. Bill would leave us on December 9th, the day Anna, George, and I passed our Black Belt test. Almost everyone we started with, even those who went on and tested for their Black Belts, have left the do-jang. Not us. We persevere. Not in small part because of Mr. Bill and his courage, and the way he taught us to show up, even when we were sad, or sick, or in emotional pain.

PMA In fact, I think I’ll suit up and go today. Spend an hour with Mr. Luis Sevilla, who replaced Mr. Bill as our instructor, and went at least twice a week to visit Mr. Bill in his last months. Another wonderful, honorable man.

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  • allanspera

    Kaylie – thank you for the beautiful commentary on Mr. Bill. Although I never knew him. Mr. Bill sounds like an accomplished black belt instructor who's excellent and patient teachings were embraced both inside and outside the do-jang, and now personified in you and his other students. I practiced martial arts a long time ago and cherish those lessons and honor my teachers that like Mr Bill have left an indelible impression of life and the journey taken. Best wishes to all those who knew Mr. Bill.

  • Kristen

    I am getting chills as I read what you wrote about a synchronicity in your life. My relationship with death was always about fear as well until I lost a close friend suddenly on Nov 9, 2003. His birthday would have been Dec 9. It started me on a different path and now even after reading your memoir and relating to so much of it, I realize that many of us share similar tragedies in our lives that for some reason we keep quiet about. I too am estranged from my mother and because people have a different relationship with her they cannot begin to understand. My promise to my friend who passed was to live my life in an honest way and see the things in me that he saw and know that I am worth something. My mother's hostility towards me could never have been deserved by a child and yet she is still openly hostile. I made a choice that I am able to live with. You are doing Mr. Bill a tremendous honor by moving forward in your life and living it in an authentic way. Good luck to you!

  • webmaster

    Kristen —
    Thank you for leaving a comment here. I am very moved by your words. There is nothing harder than standing up for oneself against the verbal, physical, emotional abuse of a parent. It is just against our nature. Talking about it is very difficult indeed. Every time a reader sends me a message of thanks, I feel validated. I can’t thank you enough.