The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Life and Loss

Today, I'll be featuring a guest blogger, who also happens to be one of my closest friends. He recently experienced the loss of someone very dear to him, and articulated his feelings in ways that I felt needed to be shared. Take some time to appreciate the people in your lives, because we can never fully appreciate how important life is until it's gone.

Shock. Shock and disbelief is what I felt when I received a phone call informing me that a very close childhood friend of mine passed away. It's been close to a month now and I'm still not sure if the full impact of his loss has really hit home yet. I had just finished my last class on a Thursday and was on my way to a coffee shop near my apartment when my cell phone rang. It was my friend Jordan's number. Usually when he called me it was to ask if I was in to town or when I might be able to hang out. I had received an unusual voicemail earlier that day from his mother, sent from his phone, telling me to call her back, so I knew that this probably wouldn't be one of our regular calls. My first thought as I stared at the name flashing on my phone was that my friend had fallen gravely ill, but a well-intentioned reminder imparted to me a few years before loomed in the back of my head. "You know, people with his condition often don't live much into their late twenties or thirties, son," my mother said, one evening as the sun was setting and Jordan pulled out of our driveway. He had begun feeling bad and had to head home for the night. I decided to research it myself and was foolishly reassured by a web page that claimed, due to medical advances, that people with my friend's condition frequently lived more normal lives than when my mother grew up. I know now that I had completely missed the point that my mom was trying to make that evening. 

You see, my buddy Jordan inherited a rare disease known as Sickle-cell Anaemia, and for the majority of his young life he fought it with mixed results. Sometimes he seemed like he was on the verge of beating his disease back enough to lead a somewhat healthy, normal life, more often, however, he suffered frequent and severe bouts of pain, and he spent many hours in hospitals and waiting rooms. Years of various surgical procedures, experimental medicines, and outmatched medical care yielded small victories often followed by discouraging setbacks. I had seen my friend go from lively and energetic to wheelchair and oxygen bound and back again. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the news his mother delivered to me on that sunny Thursday afternoon. I continued my walk to the coffee shop because, frankly, I had no idea what else to do. I walked in, placed my order to the barista, and sat down. The local high school had obviously just finished for the day and the crowd began to build a bit in the shop, and all I wanted to do was stand up and yell. I didn't even know what I would yell, I just wanted to do it to let something out because there was no way I could just sit there quietly forever. My better judgement took hold, and I immediately began texting my closest friends and people I knew who had known Jordan through me. At least they would have some idea of what a loss this was, not so much for me, but more for anyone who never got to meet him. My friends came through for me, of course, and I made it through the following weeks with the better part of my sanity intact. I have a few parting thoughts that occur to me as I think back on the events of my dark September.

First, I think that death often has an odd way of making us look on a person more favorably. No one ever goes to a funeral and says "well ya know, it sucks that he died, but he was kind of a jerk to his wife and kids anyways." We try to look for those things worth celebrating in a person and focus on those things, while many people may keep the other things in the back of their minds, no one wants to bring it up as the final impression one leaves on this earth. I imagine if you live long enough it can all get to be a bit hypocritical and tiring, although it also depends on the type of people you surround yourself with in your life. I say that to make this point. It really drove the loss home for me as I sat in my friend's service and realized that no one had to focus on one single good trait of Jordan's because my friend was truly a wonderful person.

Second, I realize now that my mom, when she reminded me of the grave nature of my friends condition, was not necessarily trying to mentally prepare me for a situation such as the one that I recently faced. I believe she wanted me to understand that my time with him was truly precious, and that I should enjoy it as much as I can. I had always thought she was just trying to get me ready for the worst, and so I looked for a different point of view elsewhere and kept my hopes up. Thinking back on it, I wish I had seen what she was really trying to tell me, because there are so many things now that I wish I had done with Jordan when I had the chance.

To close, I think that if anything can be gotten out of this, for me, it's this simple lesson. Don't let opportunities to share something new and exciting with a friend pass you by. If it's out of your comfort zone, take a chance, take a risk, do it anyways, not because your friend may not always be there, but because they are there now, and so are you, and the moment will only pass you by if you let it, and after it's gone you can never get it back no matter how many times you try to replay what could have been in your head. Our friends and family and the memories we make with them are our greatest and most lasting treasures. And for God's sake, take a picture or two. Trust me on this one, it seems silly and obnoxious at the time, but you'll always be glad you did it later.


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