Tuesday of this week began like any other. I woke up early, as my wife and I have lost the ability to sleep in. I stepped out of the room for just a minute to find one thing or another and upon my return noticed a missed call and a text. Most days I tend to ignore things like this, a “if something is important they’ll call back” approach. That morning my approach was buttressed by the fact that the missed call was from someone with a young child, and I figured the kid accidentally dialed me. But the text, this was one I couldn’t ignore. My response to the text was met with a, hang on I’ll call you soon, but I could not wait for that so I cooked up a story about being at work, which was going to happen, just not until 1pm. It was then I was told that a friend from college was found dead in her apartment the day before. I was shocked.
My mind began to race with questions. How? Who found her? What happened? But at the time little was known and if it was known, people weren’t saying much. Those questions gave way to others. Who knows? How are my other friends taking it? How can I help? After texting a few other people and making some other phone calls I realized that there was no way I could handle going to work that day. Needless to say my mental and emotional state became compromised and it would stay that way for the next 48 hours.
To be sure there were others closer to her than me. In fact, I hadn’t seen or heard from her since graduation a couple of years ago. All I knew was that she ended up working out in Colorado and seeing as I was no where near there, she faded from my mind. Going to the small liberal arts college that I did, it was hard not to know just about everyone. She was part of my larger group of friends throughout school. We would all eat meals together in the cafeteria, watch movies together, and of course, shoot the shit at the bars every once in a while. But like every group of friends there were those times when conversations became heated, sarcastic remarks were made, and feelings were hurt. And as much as I would love to believe that I never really hurt someone with my sarcasm I know I’ve pissed off and hurt more than a few. My relationship with her would vacillate between the former and the latter all throughout college. That day of graduation was the last I would see of her, never giving it a second thought until I got that text letting me know she had passed.
This is the first time in my life I have dealt with the death of someone my own age. I did not know how to handle it. In a word it was surreal. It did not seem like the conversations I was having throughout the day about her were real. Surely someone from that group of friends could not all of a sudden be dead, I mean, we are all mid twenties, on the way to starting our post collegiate lives. In an instant though, it all changed. The meaning of certain things in life was suddenly no where to be found. My job for example. I love where I work. I have never worked for a better company or have known that I am valued by my managers and coworkers, not only as an employee but as a person. Yet, the 48 hours that followed that text called in to question the value of what I was doing. I even considered quitting my job because of the lack of meaning it suddenly held for me. After all, essentially all I do is sell people things, things they can’t take with them. Sure now the toys are wonderful and enrich your life, but in an instant all of that can change.
Throughout my college years I wanted to become a pastor in the denomination I grew up in. I saw so much corruption and became jaded and full of disgust for both the theology and practice and thought it was up to me to change it. And as I went to sem and saw other people chewed up and spit back out by the machine I decided I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was not going to waste my time with a bunch of people who care more about protecting their own collective rear ends instead of caring for those entrusted to their care. So I left. I quit. I gave up. I got married, found a job, and almost walked away from it all completely. But inside me I knew I couldn’t stay away from those theological circles. I have a mind for it and I know it is my place. So I came back to a different sem to finish what I started and hopefully move on to another arena. But these last few days have showed me something else, something I don’t think I could have learned without that text. Philosophical and theological assertions matter, they do, but its not worth fighting over. Its not worth losing people over. Its not worth pissing people off just to be right. What matters are not ideas, not systems, not assertions, but people. Flesh and blood.
I want anyone reading this to know that I love you. No matter who you are. No matter what you have done. No matter what your stance on an issue is. If I have ever pissed you off, frustrated you, or hurt you I am sorry. You matter. Your life matters. Your existence enriches mine because we are both a part of humanity. For so many years I have hid behind a veil of sarcasm because I was afraid to let people know how much I actually care about them. But life is too short. I can’t hide anymore. I cannot change what has happened in the past. I wish I could. But the fact remains she is gone and that is one relationship I will never have a chance at deepening.
I don’t know where I go from here or what any of this means for my life tomorrow and the next day. But I do know this…
Sarah Walker, your life and death have impacted me in ways nobody, not even me, expected, and in ways you will never know. Our friendship, the way I treated you, good and bad, taught me more in the last couple of days than I have learned in the last couple of years. Thank you for teaching me its ok to show people I care because now I know that I may never get the chance.