When I think back to my friendship with Jay, I think about us sitting at the same table in Mrs. Burke’s Home Economics class in 8th Grade. Jay had been angry with me for the last two weeks, but we were finally on good terms again, and everything was all good.
You see, ever since 6th grade Jay had a crush on Jessica, and I knew it. Everyone knew it. And when I found out at the beginning of 8th grade that Jessica had a crush on me, I told her I liked her too. Jay was very angry that Jessica and I were “going out”, and refused to talk to me. This lasted for a week or two. Then one day Jay said he wasn’t mad anymore. He was happy for Jessica and I, especially for Jessica. He was happy that she was happy. Even as an immature 13-year old, that was the kind of guy he was.
Of course, Jessica and I “broke up” soon after. If I remember correctly – and I do – she had her friend Beth tell me at the water fountain (in Massachusetts, we call it a ‘bubbler’). This put an abrupt end to our relationship, which at that point consisted of awkward phones conversations and cleverly folded notes. We all graduated to high school, where Jay joined the band, Jessica became popular, and I did neither. Jay and I were never close after that, but we always had good memories from 7th and 8th grade. (Like the time I came over to his house before a dance and his doberman bit a hole in the back of my Rude Dog sweater that Jay had to sew.)
These memories all came flooding back to me on Saturday morning after I received a facebook message from a former classmate. She caught a story on the news. There had been a car crash the night before. Two brothers hit a concrete barrier in a pickup truck, the youngest brother was the in the passenger seat and was now in serious but stable condition. The older brother, who was driving, had been killed. I found the news story online and cringed through the details. My best friend in junior high, Jay, was dead at the age of 32.
It has been 20 years since Jay and I were friends, and I will not trivialize the intense pain and sadness that those who loved him are going though right now by claiming to be distraught by what has happened. The connection we once had is long since gone. I am saddened for their loss in the same way that anyone is sad when they hear of a young man or woman dying tragically. It doesn’t seem fair. His close friends and family are the ones in mourning now, and I ask that you join me in saying a prayer for them.
Since I heard the news 3 days ago, I have found myself going back to that classroom in 8th grade time and time again. We had no idea that one of us would not live to see 33. What if it had been me? What if I had died and somewhere Jay was having a conversation about his former friend Bryan who died too soon?
This is the time of year I normally think ahead and set some goals for the future. This year will be no different. In fact, I am not only setting goals for 2009, but I’m also working on a 3 to 5 year plan that will hopefully get me from where I am now to the career I want to have. I’m reaffirming my priorities in life…then I’m writing out goals that line up with those priorities. As I put those together in the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking of Jay. Not as some kind of lame tribute or anything like that, just because his death has once again reminded me of the fragility of life. We’re not here very long. Even in the best of scenarios, my life is a third over already. Depressing? Maybe. Reality? Absolutely. My Pastor (who doubles as one of my good friends) likes to say that life is but a small window of time in which to find God. I’m reminded of this every time I’m confronted with a death.
There’s no magic conclusion to this post to give us all a warm fuzzy. Jay is gone, his family and friends will never be the same (though we pray for their healing), and you and I are fortunate enough to still be among the living. While we are, let’s reaffirm our priorities, whatever they may be. Think about them, pray about them, and even ask our friends for input. Then let’s set goals for next year and beyond that lead us to living out those priorities on a daily basis.
It’s not about planning out every detail of our lives, leaving no room for the unscripted moments.
It’s about being intentional about how we live, and savoring all the time we are given in order to make it count.