A friend I grew up with died last week.
Me and the crew knew this guy for years. He lived around the corner. He was quiet and reserved, even though he was probably one of the most athletic and intimidating-looking guys if you were opposite of him on a football field or on the wrestling mat. He followed that path of strength and bravery into the U.S. military, and there he inspired other people beyond the borders of our small, sleepy town.
I immediately think of senior awards night in 2000, when he called me Lauryn Hill, because as Hill swept the Grammys that year, I raked in scholarships and accolades in preparation for my college life, which prepared me for the life I’m living now. He told me he was proud of me. To see a sista no less, be honored and have to walk to the podium multiple times that evening, it was a highlight, he said. He was not at the top of the class in studies, but he always had insight. As me and my friends swap stories, I found that he stood up for people using his common sense through humbling, thoughtful words when he could have handily whooped ass. I guess coming from him, it had such impact, the bullies would back down.
He was at my sweet sixteen– handsome and physically looking way too mature for his age, his muscular frame his facial hair, a cool, and natural relaxed confidence his peers couldn’t quite master just yet, but were aching to.
My father even asked me who the grown looking young man was. I had to assure him he was 16 too. He was in the circle of friends who shared limos for junior cotillion and senior prom. Basement parties and bbqs he held up the wall with the cute boys, well-dressed and popular, but still pleasant and accessible. He cheered us on as we achieved success. We saw him become a devoted father and husband over the years. And it looked good on him. His life milestones reminded us single, childless friends of what was to come.
But now I can see the reason why our friend had the job of being a parent and husband as soon as he did. His life would be short and that family would be his joy and inspiration until the end. They needed him and he needed them.
Now, he goes before us into something unknown again. He reminds us of what’s to come and to embrace what we’ve got in the time between.
As a grown man, he served his country, taking many trips to the battle field in the Middle East. He had a wife and two children who he wanted the best of everything for. Cancer took him far too soon. I can say that I’m glad he is no longer suffering, and I don’t want him to, but I wish he had more time, I wish he had more time to be healthy and be there for his boys to teach them lessons only a good dad can. So all I can do now is pray for his family.
I told a dear friend of mine that this was the kind of man people needed to see out in front. Someone of strong will and spirit and values. He knew how to be loyal, he knew how to stick to his values and do what was right even if it was of great inconvenience to himself. No one is perfect, and people tend to romanticize folks when they’ve passed on. So I don’t know what his grand faults were-he had plenty, I’m sure- but as I knew him, he was good people. Period.
So I’m going to the funeral this week with a heavy heart. I will be surrounded by my closest friends and we’ll mourn together. I even demanded that later that evening we celebrate together the fact we are “Young, black and alive.” We’ll count our blessings, and we’ll allow ourselves the opportunity to say the things we usually don’t to each other because we take for granted it’s understood. But after seeing our young friend laid to rest, the words will come so naturally and so easily for me anyway.
“I love you.”
“I admire you.”
Now, I think around last year I’ve been on a kick about saying these things to the people in my life, and this situation brings it home even more.
Rest my friend.