This morning, I found out that a friend from High School died.
I don’t know how. I just know that he is gone.
I have been thinking of him all day–remembering happy memories like when our AP English class took a field trip to the J. Paul Getty Museum, and a group of us strutted to Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” as we walked off the bus.
I remember what a flirt he was, his beautiful green eyes, and that smile! He always used to tell me how beautiful I was, and how much he wished he could date me. Of course, I had a steady boyfriend throughout high school, so that was an innocent tease, but knowing that my friend thought I was beautiful made me truly feel like I was.
I had no idea he was gay.
I don’t know if even he knew then. Regardless, he was really good at making a girl feel beautiful.
I thought back to one of my saddest memories, not just of him, but of my youth in general; a memory that pops us more often than not. I think I was in the 9th or 10th grade, which would make me 14 or 15 years old. AIDS had just become a thing. None of us understood it, and it scared a good many of us.
I remember this friend and I arguing during AP English about how to make AIDS go away. I have a vague recollection that it had something to do with persuasive essays… Anyway, my 15-year-old, stupid, cringey, ridiculous solution was “We should put everyone who has it on an island.”
UGH. I know. So unkind. So unloving.
What can I say? I was a stupid 14- or 15-year-old who thought she knew everything. I was afraid and, to be quite honest, I didn’t have a lot of love in my heart. (I was very wounded, which accounts for the lack of love.)
I don’t remember my friend’s solution, but I do remember him lovingly arguing with me about it. Knowing him, we probably hugged at the end of it all, and life went on.
Years went by, and we lost touch. We didn’t have Facebook when I was young (thank God), but when we finally did, I reached out to this friend and asked him to be my FB friend.
That never happened.
As the days and years passed, I often wondered why he didn’t deem me worthy of an adult friendship. Maybe he’d heard that, in my adulthood, I had embraced my Catholic faith and was growing closer to God. Maybe he thought I would judge him, now that he had fully embraced his own life choices.
Maybe–I thought with dismay–he remembered that argument. Oh, how I wished I could remind him of it, to apologize and to tell him I’m not like that anymore. I don’t feel that way. I don’t believe those things. I love you–and others–no matter what choices you (or they) make in life.
I can tell him now, because I know he’ll hear me, wherever he is.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
People change. People grow. God willing–and isn’t this the whole point?–sinners become saints.
My friend’s death comes fast on the heels of the death of my last remaining grandparent, my Abuelita Susana. She was 3 months shy of 99 years old. This is she and I when I was in college (I think).
I haven’t seen my grandmother for many years, partly because I live 3,000 miles away, and partly because there has always been a lot of drama on that side of the family. My grandparents had eleven feisty children. Their fights often created an uncomfortable world of anger and unforgiveness–a world in which neither I nor any of my cousins wished to reside.
So when my mother asked me to join her at the funeral, I felt uneasy.
Then I remembered how God has been gently and generously healing me these past few years since my dad died… and I welcomed this new stage.
Some of the people I would encounter at the funeral had caused some of my childhood wounds… wounds I carried still. Wounds that affected my sense of self-worth, and made me less loving to others.
You can’t give what you don’t have.
It occurred to me that God was using my grandmother’s funeral to heal those wounds and relationships. I was eager to allow Him to work in my heart, and I prayed that He would work in the hearts of my aunts, uncles, and cousins.
To say that my prayers were answered is an understatement.
As God always seems to do, most especially when we trust Him, he took my measly offering, my YES, my loaves and fishes, and He multiplied them a thousandfold.
As I’ve told anyone who asked, everyone at the funeral was so full of love and the desire to forgive and be forgiven. It was as if… no. I KNOW that God was showering us all with the fire of His love, just a few days after Pentecost. It bubbled over in tears and hugs and laughter.
It was GOOD.
None of this could have happened if all of us who attended the funeral hadn’t gone and given God a chance.
The thing is… people change. People grow. God willing, people learn to love more and more with each passing day.
Yes, I know that some people don’t, but if we don’t give people a chance to show us how they’ve grown, how they’ve changed, and how sorry they are for their past sins… we’re closing the door to God working in our lives.
I am so grateful that I was blessed to see my aunts and uncles and cousins. That I was able to break bread with them, and share stories, and laugh and cry, and reconnect as adults. I look forward to seeing how God will continue to heal us, and bring peace to our family as a result.