Precious and Painful


Life is precious and wonderful.

I learned that lesson again this week, a week of turmoil, grief, and new beginnings.

A good friend, suffering from a deadly, debilitating disease, moved on out of this world, taking charge of his life, and saying his good byes, and teaching us about life, its joys, and the wonderment of each day. His final days offered new lessons to me about courage, and what one person can achieve in their life, about relationships, and the sacredness of a simple act of kindness.

I never got to express everything I feel about him, but then, we never do. Life is like that, never having enough time to really fully communicate what another person means to us, how precious is our relationship with someone. Too often, we live in the moment, and dance around the profound, the universal truth of the gifts others bring into our lives.

A family member ended their life, leaving us with deep questions, and the pain of sudden grief, paradoxes, and the reopening of old wounds, and old questions about life. Pain wracked my heart, bringing me closer to family, and reminding me of the importance of how we all need to care for and parent the survivors. Two young children now don’t have a mother, but they do have our family, and we have a deeper appreciation of the time that we have with each other.

I helped a young man being released from prison. I walked with him out of the prison gate, having him hear that metal slam behind him, and I drove him into the rest of his life. Five years behind bars, ten years of foster care, two failed adoptions, the emptiness of no one visiting him these last five years.

We loaded up all of his worldly possessions into my car, and drove off into the early morning gloam, the heavy rain attempting to drown our joy of that moment, and the prospects of a bright life ahead for this young man.

We greeted the dawn at the beach, his first view of the ocean in five years, his first hour of only the sound of the wind and the waves, not sharing the dawn with twenty five other inmates in a prison dorm.

There was ice cream with breakfast, and buying a new book by his favorite author, and a long drive through the forest, where each turn in the road offered yet another view of the world, without bars and fences.

We dealt with bureaucracy, mind-numbing forms and questionnaires, more waiting, and more interviews. Yet, in all that, I witnessed his courage, his determination to move ahead, and begin his new life. He knew where he was going, and he was prepared to forge ahead, on his own at last.

Through his eyes, I saw the world anew, and got a glimpse of what opportunity and hope can mean for one’s soul. When all things are possible, and when you now have freedom to move ahead, and to take your first steps into a new world, to create your life, and move towards your dreams, then life is sweet and amazing.

I walked with him, sitting in the dank waiting rooms of the probation office, transitional housing, the world of food stamps and public assistance. I felt the cold stares of the security guards and the bureaucrats, their unfeeling hands as they searched me, judging me as a suspicious troublemaker, labeling me without knowing me. This was just another day of institutional life for my young friend, and he flashed me a grin, letting me know that you can endure the labeling, the indifferent bureaucrats, and mind-numbing waiting, because today was his first day of freedom.

At dinner, we toasted his freedom, and the future that he now held in his hand. He chatted with the waitress about looking for work, about being young and moving to the big city. He laughed and grinned at the idea of a menu, and a linen table cloth, and a candle on the table, real silverware and real plates. And, when the giant piece of chocolate cake was too much for him to eat, he laughed at the idea of taking the rest home to his new room, a midnight snack just for him, to eat it all by himself, his first night sleeping alone in five long years.

This week offered me many lessons, and many voices on how life is precious, and wonderful, and not to be taken for granted. In all of this, I played many roles, and was called upon to be the best of friends, the best of uncles, and the best of the driver and companion of a young man whose world was opening up, his life ready to fully bloom in the glories of the coming spring.

Neal Lemery 3/30/2014

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