I mentioned last week that a former coworker of mine died suddenly at the tender age of 38. William was a kind, low-key person with infinite patience (10 years' worth) for every manner of obnoxious customer one can imagine and without a bad word to speak of anybody. It sent a ripple of shock through the group of friends who knew him to learn of the untimely loss. And I know many of us were sorry to have missed his funeral and wake, which happened in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. We knew some kind of gathering was necessary...for us all to have the chance to get together and remember William--to celebrate his life.
An informal gathering was suggested by my friend Alejandra just the day after his death, and it was pleasantly surprising to see so many people make it out on a Monday night with just a few hours' notice. We met at TGIF's that night, since that was where so many of our gatherings had taken place, back when Barnes & Noble was still a fun place to work, full of youthful, friendly people who shared a mutual respect and care for one another.
Today's New Activity: Remembering William, Barnes & Noble Style
We planned for a second gathering to take place tonight, since Friday seemed like a more easily accessible day on which to get together. And a fitting remembrance it was. Colleen and Will, who met a Barnes & Noble years ago and married a few months back, hosted the gathering at the home where Colleen used to host many a party, back in the day. Will put together a beautiful slideshow of pictures, and people who hadn't gotten together in years were there to pay tribute.
One thing interesting to me was that I didn't hear a lot of talk about William tonight. See, here's the thing: William himself didn't talk much. He was always there, sometimes among the last to leave a get together, but he was very quiet in nature. Tonight's felt like so many other gatherings at which William was present--even in life he was there more in spirit than in any sort of calling-attention-to-himself way. I find that beautiful. And I find it beautiful that--although he was so reserved in life--his loss was felt so deeply and by so many people.
I think about mortality with some frequency. Perhaps more than average, perhaps not. But it's been on my mind a lot lately, beginning about 6 weeks ago. Nothing in particular set me thinking in that way. It was just part of a cycle of thinking I return to in waves.
I discussed it most recently with Nicole following my attendance at the Pride Parade in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I was telling her how brave I thought it was for people to live an out-of-the-closet homosexual life. Despite the lifting of much of the stigma in recent decades, I know there is still plenty of misunderstanding if not downright judgment and hatred toward homosexuals, and I think it takes an amazing strength of spirit for somebody to come out, particularly to their closest friends and family. Nicole said that she believes people who live in this way have the right thinking about what life is meant to be. She related it to lucid dreaming--of being able to know you're in a dream and steer the events as you like--to do what you like without fear or reservation. She related the event of one's death to the waking from such a lucid dream. The idea was that, for all we know, this lifetime is all we have, and when it's over, our part in the experience of living has been played. And so many of us play out that part according to the rules and script set forth by others, never taking the chance to orchestrate our own moves in this lucid dream of life. Nicole really got me thinking with that.
Of course, she was not talking about living a debauched life of moral depravity and disregard for laws or for the feelings of others. It was just about living fully out loud as the person who is bursting from within you, without worrying about the judgments of others or even the vast majority of social norms. I love that idea. I love love love that idea.
William's death, at such a young age and following just a year and a half after the death of his own sister, was just another reminder to me that we could suddenly and unexpectedly wake from this dream at any moment...or not. There is really NO TIME AT ALL to waste, or to spend steeped in doubt, unhappiness, stress, or despair. It's the best of The Shawshank Redemption: Time to get busy living or get busy dying. And since we are all headed toward death anyway, every single day, there really is only one viable option among those two choices. Living it is, then.
Among those in this group pictured below are some of my favorite people in the whole world, and for a long time running now. I am so sorry it took the passing of one of them to get us all together again. And how wonderful it was to be together again...all grown up, the partying and smoking days out of our systems, the benefit of a few years of wisdom and experience in our corners. And with a freshly renewed appreciation for was a blessing it is to be alive. Fully alive.
William, I hope to encounter you again, someday, somewhere. And I hope someone is there with us to tell the sheep joke for old time's sake :)