In life, every one of us draws a circle. Inside of it are our people — the people we love, fight for and protect no matter what. As we get older, our circles get smaller. People grow up (or they don’t), they get married, they move, their values and priorities become different from our own — and slowly, one by one, they fall away from our lives. But a few stay — through thick and thin, migraines and harvest and everything in between. Those are the people you want with you in the trenches.
This month our circle got smaller. One of our friends felt the burdens of life were just too much to bear. It came as a shock, as he was one of the most upbeat and positive people I know. The kind of person who doesn’t just call when he has time — but he makes time to give you a call. Standing at his funeral while person after person, young and old, wealthy and poor, took the microphone and told their story of how this young man had helped them — it was pretty evident that many people had felt his kindness. He had repeatedly taken out the trash at his favorite restaurant, he baby-sat for the simple pleasure of playing with the kids, and he was always just a phone call away. It was no different for us.
My husband likes to tell stories about when they were little. My husband was about 12 years old when he was carrying our friend (then about 2) on his shoulders. Walking around during a church potluck, they were standing next to a little old lady, her head just inches away from the 2-year-old fingers. Suddenly, with ninja speed, those little fingers reached out and plucked the hair from her head like feathers off a turkey! I wasn’t there, but I am sure his 2-year-old cuteness was the only thing keeping him from a swat from the little, old — and now bald — lady.
Sometimes on his way home from work he’d stop by our house just to play with our kids. He’d tease them and chase them, throwing them into the air amid lots of laughter and squealing. He’d tickle them until they could barely gasp “uncle,” then he would just laugh and say he was “toughening them up, like their dad had done to him when he was little.” Sometimes when seeing him come up the sidewalk, the kids would lock the door and then dance in the window and giggle watching his great theatrics attempting to get to them — and they ate up every second in anticipation.
His visits weren’t always just for fun, though. He gave the best massages I’ve ever had in my life — and sometimes when a headache got too much, he would get a sad, pathetic phone call or text, pleading for his assistance. Never once did he say he couldn’t — most times coming right away regardless of what he was currently doing. Once, on the sixth day of a migraine, my husband called asking if he could come help. I had spent the last few days being sick on the bathroom floor. He quickly set up his table in the living room, and half-dragged-half-carried me onto it. My nausea was bad, and he grabbed a bowl and put it under the table, holding my hair and gently rubbing my shoulders as I dry-heaved. Much later that evening, when the pain started subsiding, I realized I had vomit all in my hair — and he hadn’t said a word. He could have teased me about it later — but embarrassing someone wasn’t his style.
All these stories and more crashed into each other as I realized these moments had changed from normal life to memories. I wanted to shout, “You are loved. Your life matters!”
As our days go round and round, some days we laugh, some days we cry, but on the days we have to say goodbye, we recognize one universal truth — life is difficult, always and for all of us.
Einstein once said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” My challenge (to you and myself) is to learn to be as kind as our friend, to live a life that makes people dance with anticipation when they see you strolling up the sidewalk, and hopefully one day, to be the friend who loves you even when you have day-old vomit stuck in your hair. God may not have called our friend home, but I have no doubt he’ll be there with open arms to welcome him in.