This week, the father of one of my two childhood best friends died. It was not a shocking or tragic death, but he was so full of life that it still feels a bit of a surprise—like part of me believed he might live forever.
The memories are flooding in—his fanatical devotion to all things Clemson; his distinctive Southern accent, especially when he answered the phone (“Speak!”); the rope he installed so we could swing from a platform across their back yard; his welcoming embrace of me as an extra child in his house whenever I was there; and also the conspicuous absence in that home of some of our other close school friends, who weren’t welcome. Only as an adult have I been able truly to see and understand the ubiquitous prejudices (and worse) in the community of my childhood.
There are things about his life that I do not to celebrate, but above all else, this man mattered in my life because he was my friend’s father, and he loved her truly—my friend who is one of the most progressive people I know, who challenged me to question my narrow assumptions when we were in high school, who was always a thinker and a dreamer and an edgy romantic. As soon as I told her (in our 20s) that I had a girlfriend, she mailed me a copy of Rubyfruit Jungle. I had been quite fearful about what it would mean to come out to my childhood friends, and she did more than offer words of support. She helped me celebrate me.
These moments of life passage, with their rituals and liturgies, invite us to pause and reflect; to be present to our loved ones; to be present to ourselves.
I haven’t seen this man in many years. Still, his death matters to me. His life mattered to me. And so, with love and affection, I pause to remember the complicated, contradictory, whole person he was. As are we all.
In memory and in love,