Four years ago, a tragic event occurred that changed many of my childhood friends’ lives. We lost one of our own – Kelly was killed by a drunk driver a day after his nineteenth birthday. His father and two brothers were also killed. I can never imagine the suffering that Kelly’s family still bears – but I can be grateful for how lucky I have been so far in life.
After Kelly died, though not entirely due to it, I began to look at loss a certain way. It was unfair, it sucked, it was heartbreaking to lose someone – and it is. I don’t even just mean “loss” when referring to death. Obviously, eventually everyone dies; this is a fact that many people spend much of their life running from. I also mean ‘loss” by the simple fact that people are like seasons. They come and go in your life, some sticking around for longer than others.
I have always been resistant to change. I get easily attached to people and I value loyalty, much like a Labrador – once I care about someone, once I’ve added someone to my life, it takes quite a bit to remove them. So when I have faced major changes – graduating high school, moving to Tampa, graduating from college and my friends dispersing around the country, finishing my Notre Dame AmeriCorps year – I have viewed these changes with a degree of bitterness. Though in today’s world it is easier than ever to stay in contact with people, it is a simple fact that some people will drift – late night talks together on the couch turn into weekly texts which turn into once-a-year birthday cards which turn into fond memories.
I encountered a quote though that has changed the way I look at loss and love and building relationships with people. Eric Greitens, a Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL, wrote in his memoir, The Heart and the Fist, about a moment when, while jogging in the early morning, he came across a memorial with names of fallen friends inscribed upon it.
“We ran in quiet for a while, both of us humbled by our good fortune to have known worthy people and to have loved them. Both of us humbled by the incredible gift of continued life.”
Humbled by the good fortune to have known worthy people. As I reflect on the end of one journey and the beginning of another, as I begin a year of service with City Year Orlando and meet a new team of people, I think of this quote.
I have known (and know) worthy people. I am astonished by the caliber of the people I have been graced with in my life; the people who have been there since before I could even attempt to navigate this world on my own, my childhood friends, the people I grew up with both in Orlando and at USF, the people I stood beside at graduation, the people I have served beside – and I have loved them.
An eternal question follows the old adage, “Would you rather have loved and lost than never have loved at all?” Of course the answer is no. Losing people, whether it was Kelly and my grandmother, my role model and the pillar of my life or old friends as they stretch across the country or world, certainly hurts; but the fact that I have known such worthy people, people to admire and love, people who inspire and drive me – I am so lucky. I am humbled by this incredible gift of continued life.
So today on Kelly’s birthday and over the course of the next few days, as many think of him in the quiet moments and remember and honor him, as I say goodbye to my GED students tomorrow and as I say hello to my new students and team in the coming month, and every day of this journey, I remember how lucky I am to have loved & love incredible people and I honor them.