Friday, June 22

One Year Ago

Dear Z:

I've been writing this in my head for the past week, and the words have now become too heavy to carry in silence.  It's time to write them down.

One year ago, I received an email from a woman at church whom I had never met before, asking if I wouldn’t mind being Facebook friends with her “highly decorated Marine sniper” son who, after finishing his service at the end of the year, would be moving to Texas to start his civilian life.  “He could use some friends as he transitions to Texas,” she wrote.  I replied that of course I would be friends with her son, that I had great respect for members of the military and would enjoy getting to know him.  In the back of my mind, though, I told myself that nothing would come of it, that this guy would be one of those random Facebook friends that you never really talk to or have anything to do with.

I never expected that that first message I sent you on June 12, 2011, would turn into something wonderful, into a great friendship.  And I never imagined that a year later I would be kneeling by your headstone, laying flowers down and whispering words in the wind.

There are a lot of things that I have said about you - and a lot more that I could say - but I guess what I really want to say is thank you.  Thank you for being a part of my life.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.  Thank you for letting me listen to all of your stories.  Thank you for making me talk about what I was thinking.  Thank you for making me more brave, more confident.  Thank you for helping me let go.  Thank you for sharing your testimony with me.  Thank you for making me laugh.  Thank you for making me happy.

This past year in my English 3 class, we read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  Never before have I connected so much with a novel.  I will admit that more than once the tears flowed freely as I shared with my students about you and some of your experiences and how they correlated with the themes of the story.  One line in particular struck with me such force that I don't think there was one dry eye in the entire class.  The main character, Billy Pilgrim, tries to explain to the man in the hospital bed next to him that he personally witnessed the Bombing of Dresden during World War II.  The man arrogantly dismisses his claims.  Billy then says: “We don’t ever have to talk about it... I just want you to know: I was there” (193).   I just want you to know: I was there.  I think that's what you were trying to tell me all along.  With all of your stories - of your past, of your mission, of your deployments, of your trials and struggles - you just wanted someone to know that you were there.  That you experienced things that no one person should have to experience.  I want you to know that I understand now.  I understand that you just needed someone to listen, to know.  Well, I know.  I know you were there.  And I promise to let others know you were there, too.

During the past few weeks, I've been struggling with Eternity vs. Everyday.  From the eternal perspective, I can understand and accept that even though you are not physically here on earth, your spirit still lives beyond the veil.  I know where you are, I know that you are safe and at peace, that you are no longer struggling, no longer suffering.  From the eternal perspective, I know that I will see you again, after this mortal life.  I know you and I will be able to sit down and talk and laugh and forgive and reminisce.  I know I will be happy again in this life, carrying with me your memory.  I know all of these things because I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Plan of Salvation, and of the role of the Savior's atonement in our lives.  And while this knowledge is a source of comfort most days, there are other days when I am brutally reminded that eternity is a long ways off.  That I live in the everyday.  That's the hard part.  The everyday.  And I think this applies to every trial we have in life.  Eternal perspective - I understand it.  Everyday living - I wish it didn't hurt this much.

I remember one of the very last conversations we had, on New Year's Eve.  You were joking about wanting to start a blog to chronicle all of your crazy life adventures.  All night you were coming up with these ridiculously long (and lame) titles for this theoretical blog of yours.  After we had finally said goodnight (or rather, good morning) and I was at home getting ready for a few hours of sleep, you called (I think it was 4:00 am or something), all excited because you had thought of the perfect title for your blog: Life In Transition.  I smiled, laughed, and said, yes, that is a perfect title to describe your life.  The irony of how fitting that title is now is more than a little cruel.  The past six months have been a constant transition, finding my new normal, trying to understand, holding on and letting go.  But I suppose we will always be in transition, from one experience to the next, from success to failure, from happiness to heartbreak, from birth to death, from celebrations to memorials... and on and on and on.  Always living, always experiencing, always learning, always transitioning.  If I ever start another blog, I think I'll borrow your title.  I know you won't mind.

One year ago, I never imagined that you and I would become friends.  I never imagined that we would spend hours and hours and hours talking.  I never imagined that our time together would be so cruelly cut short.  I never imagined that I would sing your favorite hymn at your memorial.  I never imagined that I would feel so much pain and sorrow.  But more than all that, I never imagined that you would become so important to me.  Thank you.  With all my heart, thank you.

Miss you.  Love you always.  See you again.

"Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking
But I stay strong and I hold on ‘cause I know
I will see you again, this is not where it ends
I will carry you with me ‘till I see you again"
(See You Again, Carrie Underwood)

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