When Friends Die, They Still Teach Us

A friend of mine died the other day in a motorcycle accident. He was far too young to die. Such sadness is beyond words, but this friend deserves words because of the lesson and example he left behind.

Several days after the accident, the family held a celebration of his life. It, too, was immeasurably sad, but it was far better than a somber funeral. Several hundred people showed up, elbow to elbow, chair to chair, milling about in an enormous room (and overflow patio). These people came from all walks of life. There were grandmothers and artists and tattooed skaters and surfers of all ages, for my friend loved the ocean. Outside of airports and train stations, I have never seen a wider spectrum of humanity gathered for a common cause. My friend was responsible for this.

It was very crowded and very loud. It was like a party, which I know was the idea, only at most parties a grandmother does not rock a crying skater in her arms. As I said, the room was very crowded and very loud, but eventually the room quieted and people came up to a podium to speak. This too was immeasurably sad. Speakers started off clear-eyed and firmly intentioned and then they stood crying and looking lost. But they got the words out. There were stories and laughter and moments of quiet when lots of people were crying, including me. Oftentimes life and death make no sense.

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I could tell you many of the things that were said, but there was one comment that mattered most because it summed the power and the beauty of our friend in one simple, but not simple at all, phrase. It probably was the reason so many different kinds of people were gathered in the cavernous room that looked like the German beer hall it was, but now was a special place where people laughed and cried as if no one was watching.

A young man stood up. I can't tell you his exact age. He looked like he might have been thirty (our friend was thirty-five), but I don't know. He had a beard and it sounded, from some of the things he said, that he had had some hard times in his life. He told the story of meeting our friend. He was sleeping in the bushes after a party had rendered him lost (this speaker did not pretend to be a saint), when our friend happened on him. Our friend was with friends, a sister I think, and maybe another girl, because our friend had the soft-spoken manner and white bright smile women love. This man who had just woken asked for a ride. Some, if not all, of the girls reacted as you might expect (and, sadly, as you probably should), but sometimes soft-spoken people are in charge. Fine, our friend said, hop in. So began a friendship between two young men that wasn't long enough.

The bearded young man standing at the podium still looked a little scuffed up by life, but he spoke beautifully from his heart. I'm sorry I don't remember all the things he said; I brought a notebook but it didn't seem right to be taking notes, and besides I was very, very sad.

But I do remember that he looked out at the hushed gathering and, very quietly, said, "There was no sound of judgment in his voice."

Even as I write this I am still so sad I don't feel like thinking of examples. But we all know this doesn't matter. You don't need me to spell out examples of our propensity for judgment. They are in every day's headlines, in our words, in our actions, in our fabric. The hard truth is judgment is very much ingrained; in our world and in our souls. It is the rarest person who carries no sound of judgment.

Later in the celebration someone else stood at podium and encouraged us to live our lives as our friend had lived his. These were wise words and I listened to them because I knew and respected the speaker, but he didn't sway me because I had already made my decision.

Odds are, you didn't know my friend. But I hope you might try to carry on his example.

And if you don't, I know he wouldn't judge.

About the Author

Ken McAlpine is the author of eight books and lives in Ventura. His most recent novel, “Juncture,” is a cerebral “Jaws”; a suspense-filled thriller, a story of primal love and our changing oceans and, perhaps, a final fork in the road.
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