I was reminded yesterday, as I scrolled through my feed before going to work, of a really remarkable guy I grew up with. I took in the familiar image of him, smiling a grin that has always resonated with me. Then I looked at the text above the image and my whole mood came crashing down deeper and more severely as I read each word about how great you were and questioning why. Even as I type and reflect, my eyes feel tingly with the warmth of fresh tears and there’s a block in my airways because I cannot surpass the shock of what I read just days ago. I have so many questions and so many disappointments when I see news like this. What happened in this person’s life that it came to such an abrupt end? Why was this person’s life, a life so full of vigor, joy, and compassion, cut so short? What memories could we have shared, had we been closer? Why do we see so many bright sparks burn out, when they bring light to the darkness and warmth to the cold of this world? Is it even fair that the Universe allows such separation between the people we love and ourselves on such a permanent plane? They’re all there, and they’re all pressing, and there is no rational answer to most of these questions-because death is unknown to the human condition. It is seen as an end to a physical body. We understand it as the termination of organs, cells, systems, breath, and (most obviously) life. To understand what this all means, is up to each individual who has to react to the loss of a loved one-be it a close relative or a distant acquaintance. I want to spend my energy recalling the memories of someone who made my life and transition into young adulthood a bearable one by words and actions. The metaphysical message behind all this is something I haven’t yet reconciled with, so it would feel unfair to try to do so in a single post.
Depending on the viewership I attract with these posts, a few of you might already know who I’m talking about, and already have your own rush of memories and emotions to go along with mine. For those who don’t know me, or the person I’m referring to, I’ll feel better to go a little deeper into who he is and what he did for me.
I’m writing about a guy named Josh. We grew up for much of my childhood and early teen years in the same town and school system. I was in a few classes with him in middle school, and I saw him occasionally outside of school. I wasn’t as close to him as some in his immediate friend group, but we did know each other, and Josh made it a point to take good care of the people in his life-friends and acquaintances alike.
I wish I had a crystal clear memory of a time we shared together like some of my peers do, but I only have fragments of memories and, for me, most importantly, I still can feel the things he made me feel, just by treating me with dignity and respect. I remember spending a lot of time floating around the playground outside our middle school, looking for a thing to, or a person to talk to, and Josh resolved that for a moment or two, coming by with his group of friends and acknowledging that I was there. Saying hi, asking what was up, dropping a goofy remark or slapping me a high five. Whatever it was kids were doing as a form of nicety back then, he would do it. See, I didn’t get that kind of acknowledgment from all my peers. Even the ones that did treat me with respect, couldn’t do it quite like Josh could.
Josh had a magnetic air about him. He was happy, or showed a happy face to the world. No matter what might have been going on in his life, he didn’t take it out on the other kids. He made everyone feel they had a right to be there. He didn’t shy from cracking a joke with the lonely kid who everyone else would turn away from. He looked beyond slight facial or body differences in the kids who were developing differently from the rest of the pack. He was authentically, unabashedly himself with everyone. He showed kids being confident in yourself was perfectly acceptable in all situations. He taught me that being me was more than enough, and if people didn’t like it, tough on them, it’s best to enjoy myself and do what I like.
I could always find him getting the most out of life. He liked extra tots at breakfast and lunch, and he was not afraid to ask, and maybe pocket some for after lunch-before Napoleon Dynamite was even on the radar. He liked four square, riding bikes, drumming, and, when American Idiot came out, he was Green Day’s biggest fan. Being in the front of the band in my flute section back in middle school, I used to love when I’d get to watch the percussion practice their parts because Josh would be boppin’ his head to the beat and getting into it in a way that would put the Blue Man Group to shame.
While I never got close to Josh like others did, I always felt close to him, because he put himself into the world in a way that was transcendent of fear or judgment. To see that he’s gone physically from this Earth is too much for me to bare all at once. As I deal with the grief of losing someone I hoped to be close to, I’m going to do my part to keep his best attributes alive in my own life. In doing so, I hope living out his bliss will keep his spirit alive, and, when I see someone looking lonely, I’m going to treat them with kindness, equity, and compassion, just the way Josh would. I just hope, wherever his soul is, he’s happy knowing he’s got a big fan who loves the person he was and the legacy he left behind.