When I was in tenth grade, I took a class called “Street Law”. It was an elective, nothing more than a mildly interesting schedule filler. We mostly watched movies-all the criminal classics like A Few Good Men and Shawshank Redemption. The ins and outs of our country’s criminal justice system are still a mystery to me but one thing I’ll always remember from that class is that justice itself is a fickle law-breaker . Life gets to be unjust sometimes, sentencing good people to wicked, undeserved fates.
During class, a kid named Matt sat directly behind me. He was the class-clown, always searching for a way to make everyone laugh. I didn’t know him well; I can’t tell you what his favorite color or greatest fear is but I can tell you that he was a good kid, well-liked and well-deserving of a good, long life after high school.
Sometime in the middle of the semester, Matt was killed in a car accident. Everyday, he sat behind me in Street Law until one day, he didn’t.
Not long after Matt’s death, I stood in a crowded ER, nestled between a nurse and a grieving husband as a middle-aged woman went into cardiac arrest.Her heart had already stopped beating by the time I got to her bedside but her death was so recent, I wondered if some small, inaudible part of her was still very much alive. Moments ago she was breathing, moments ago her husband’s eyes were dry.
Kathy died from complications with ovarian cancer the same day she was diagnosed.
That was the first and last time I clocked observations in the ER. Before Kathy, I was an aspiring EMT. After Kathy, I was confused. How was I supposed to grieve the death of this stranger? What was I allowed to feel?
Today, I understand it a little better. Grief gives us no allowances. We don’t get to choose how we deal with the loss of a classmate, friend, loved one, or stranger.
But perhaps, we can take a little comfort knowing that if we feel the loss of someone, we once felt the gain of them. Even if they tip-toed in and out of our lives, their shadows linger a little longer. I miss Matt, I miss Kathy, and even though our paths probably would never have converged again, I wish they were still here.
I miss them and now, I miss my friend Brian who I met just a month ago in a Romanian hostel. First, he was the nameless traveler who introduced me to American Horror Story. Then, he was Brian the physicist, Brian the writer who let me read some of his incredible short stories. He was Brian who knew how to say “cheers!” in three different languages. Brian who loved traveling and making people laugh. He was that and now he’s this-a friend who left this world too soon.
Two days ago, Brian was posting about our new president on Facebook. Today, I’m posting “rest easy” on his timeline.
There’s a whole guide on how to grieve the loss of a well-established fixture in our lives but when it comes to those short-term life visitors, I’m not sure what you’re allowed to feel.
All I know is that when they’re gone, you do feel something because when they sit behind you in class or stop playing their heartbeat for you or clink a “cheers!” into your small glass of Romanian brandy, they tweak with your being, they leave their incisions, and they make you miss them when they’re gone.
Rest Easy My Friends,