I’ve been thinking about death quite a bit lately. First, my high school’s twenty year class reunion was last weekend. I was on the committee. I was in charge of telling everyone and their mama about the reunion and making the memorials for the classmates who have died already. I put some “Billie Blue” ribbon on white pillar candles. I also made these memory books that were to be signed by my classmates. The books and candles would be given to a surviving member of the classmate’s family. Five of my classmates have died, including my dear friend Angela who died about 18 months ago.
As I was preparing these books and reading over the group message that showed the other members of the committee preparing the rest of the reunion, I couldn’t help thinking about my friend and what it would be like with here. I went to her grave and talked to her. Even though I think actually going to a grave involves magical thinking. IF your soul is not part of your body and is flying around in Heaven or can go anywhere it wants, why would it hang around at the cemetery? But for some reason, I get some sense of calm going out there. So I went out there and looked at her flowers and thought about our high school days.
I wonder what life would be like if she was still around. I wonder what her kids would be like. They live in Missouri with their Dad now and I can see the changes the accompany puberty in their facebook photos. I wonder where she hid her will. I can’t believe she didn’t have one. Sometimes I can hear her in the same place where I hear my conscience, telling me things. It’s not an auditory hallucination but it’s in the same place, that same hard to define place where you get a message that tells you this action is wrong.
About two days after my high school reunion, I found that my junior year prom date Brandon had killed himself. I wish I could say we were close friends but we weren’t. We both shared a speech and debate class. He was a senior and lived at the Baptist home. I never heard him talk about his parents and his only complaint about the Baptist home was that they wouldn’t let him listen to certain types of music. He nervously asked me to prom and I went. There was an after party and he asked me if I would like to go to that and I said yes. Then when prom arrived, we danced all night and ended up staying at a friend’s house watching movies.
Later, in speech and debate class, my other classmates all gathered around me asking about my date to the prom. Apparently, nerd love is a hot topic. He walked in on me talking about it, turned around, and didn’t speak to me until a couple of years later when I ran into him at a local fast food joint in my college town. It was a moment where I acted exactly like I was in high school.
When I saw him a few years later, he seemed happy to see me. He said something briefly about how he was in college and then partied to the point that he had to drop out. He said he was working but it was a very brief encounter and he didn’t give a phone number and I didn’t ask for his or give him mine. I’m not sure what that means in the grand scheme of things.
He found me on facebook and had mentioned that he wasn’t going to his high school reunion because he wasn’t happy about his life. Then his account went down. Then he refriended me. Then I found out he killed himself.
ANd later this same week I found out Steve Jobs died. Well I don’t know him. I liked his views on life and his commencement speech at Stanford University is one of the most profound things I have heard.
I have no great wisdom regarding all of these deaths other than I don’t understand why them and not three other people. I know eventually death catches up with all of us. I know that we will never completely know the effect we have on others or what we mean to other people. It seems that we, myself included, get so caught up in life or so scared of rejection that we never really tell people how we feel. It gets lost in the chatter.
The only thing I know is that no matter how much time we have, it’s never quite enough. There’s always something else we want to do. So go after what you want and do what makes you happy so long as it doesn’t involve hurting other people. That’s all I know right now.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. —- Steve Jobs, Stanford University Commencement Speech 2005