Last Tuesday, I sat at a funeral for one of my friends from college.
It was as heartbreaking as it sounds.
Back in college, we were a group of eight. My friend was not on the outskirts of this group, but at the core. Even within our own small circle we knew then what a gift of friendship we had in him. You would have liked him instantly, because he made you feel liked first. Laughter was easy for him, appreciation of a witty remark was a joy to him, and you were his friend from the first time he shook your hand.
We had seen each other steadily through our four years in college since we shared the same network of friends. I worked at the campus bar along with his classmate, and we crossed into each other's lives again when coincidentally I was roommates with his college girlfriend. After graduation we fell out of touch, but in a moment of serendipity eight years ago, I saw him once more.
It was toward the end of the school year, I was outside of the school's main entrance waiting for my children at pick up time, and I saw his six foot frame from around the corner. I opened my mouth when I recognized him. He looked the same. I rushed over, and from ten feet away, I heard his laugh. We had crossed paths once more. I told him I was there for my children, he said he was there for his daughter and our eyes danced back and forth as we asked about the people we had known decades ago. Our voices were filled with the familiar rise and fall of two people who share countless memories. I wondered if Crazy Becky was still crazy, and asked if William had married his girlfriend of ten years. We leaned in and said, "Remember that trip we made to the horse track? When we actually won on wild bets?!" Stories flew between us, of too many trips to Madison in too small of a car. Since then, we saw each other almost daily for the next eight years.
When he fell ill late last year, I was able to hear how he was doing through school. Not wanting to intrude on this private time with his family, I asked about him through acquaintances. When I received the startling email this weekend that he had passed away on Sunday, tears caught in my throat. The weight of loss sat in my chest like a brick. I thought of his wife, his daughter, and the good person we no longer had on this earth.
He was one of the good guys.
All of this was so hard to grasp at Tuesday's funeral. I sat among his friends and family, and I know that not a one of us could understand how we came to be here, for this - for him today. I wanted to sing along to the hymns his family had chosen for him, but the ache in my throat stopped me.
The weather on Tuesday was befitting him. Unseasonably bright blue skies and temperatures warm enough to need no jacket. In front of the church sat his car, the one we had taken to Madison. As the numbers of us stood outside waiting to enter church, our lines spilled out of the church, down the length of the block, then carried into the parking lot across the street.
Every person who came, standing under a glorious blue sky, was here because of him.
He touched so many lives. We all were here, hoping to take what we had in our hearts for him and share with his wife and daughter -- somehow wishing our love for him would hold them up that day. Around us, you heard the same words murmured, "He was one of the kindest people you'd ever meet."
When you think of someone and feel deeply grateful to have known them -- that is a person who excelled in the art of being human. And that was my friend.
His greatest gift was never holding back emotion -- when he felt a good, hard laugh coming on, he let it go. When he saw you, he hugged you with both arms, lifting you off the ground. The first thing he would say to someone when he was them, was their name. That was all, but in those syllables, you heard Hello, How are you, and louder than anything, I'm happy to see you.
The only way you could walk away after seeing him, was with a smile and a warm heart.
We will miss you, my dear friend. The sky now shines brighter with you there among its stars.
“Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.”
~Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger
I wish you peace, light, and love, my friend. I wish you our hearts full of love to accompany you on your journey to your new home now. May the memory of seeing all of us who came to say goodbye to you comfort your wife and child. May they remember our eyes as we spoke to them about you, may they carry our stories of how you excelled so on this Earth. May they never forget how not even a church was big enough to hold the number of people who came to tell you, Thank you, I am so glad I knew you.
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