I will preface this story by saying I have never experienced a death that is blinding, heart wrenching, or one that has shaken me to my core. I am thankful to have not had to experience that kind of suffering yet in my life and for those who have, I can only attempt to understand the severity of their pain. When I think of the closest encounter with death that has occurred in my life, a boy named Steven Dub comes immediately to mind.
Steven Dub was a few grades ahead of me in high school. He was one of those kids who couldn't seem to escape the unhappiness in his life. He had a tremendous amount of anger and resentment toward the world and some specific people that he felt had wronged him. Therefore, it seemed as if he was always on the edge of falling apart, like a wine glass ready to slip off the counter and shatter into a million pieces. He was also toughened by some of the experiences he had, things that would be terrifying or damaging to the average person, but were just an everyday reality for him. However, there was one thing about Steven that was most memorable and worth sharing: throughout all his adversities and pain, Steven had a soft kind of strength that rose up within him. It was almost as if he had recognized that while he had been dealt certain unfortunate cards in his life, it didn't mean that the people around him had to pay for them.
This aspect of maturity and togetherness inspired me. Even though he had such a crazy life, he could still light up when he heard something funny -- he still wanted to have fun, and there was an excitement about life behind his eyes. Charming and adventurous, he managed to muster the spirit to put one foot in front of the other. Mostly though, what I loved about Steven was that despite it all, he somehow maintained the ability to feel love, even for me. He was not afraid of expressing warmth or affection even to people he deemed merely friends, and it was this quality about Steven that makes him forever have a place in my heart. Even though his life was short, he conveyed a powerful message: that even if you are suffering, even if you don't feel you have much to give, the love you find in your heart can still touch people and they remember that love long after you are merely a memory.
My interactions with Steven were brief but formidable. He was always in some state of distress but somehow remained charismatic, even charming. Even in a drunken stupor, as he tried to cope with his latest violent fight with his psycho girlfriend, his intoxication was a cocktail of calm, warmth, and sweetness, with a touch of brooding there and there. One night, when I was having a party, he wandered into my room. It was as if for a moment he wasn't a tortured soul, but just this beautiful boy. I remember that look he gave me, his soft eyes peering over at me like he was really seeing me and he liked what he saw. These memories are all I had left of Steven. When he graduated and I got more focused on finishing school, and he drifted off my radar. Little did I know, he was going to be off all radars forever.
The news came as all bad news does, in a flurry and mass-distributed. Steven had gotten into a terrible car accident while driving fast on a freeway. From the way it was described to me, Steven was in a blissful state when it happened, caught up in being young and free, out of high school and ready to finally start his life. When I learned of his death, I felt was a kind of numbness, and for some reason my reaction was much more intellectual than it was emotional. What went through my head we're things like "that's terrible, poor Steven," "my goodness he was so young," and "he had had such a hard life and to have it end this way..." Somehow the correlation between my previous attraction and warmth toward Steven and his sudden death didn't translate. Instead I felt a sense of removed sadness, of longing, of existential dreaming.
Steven's death became less about Steven and more about the precious, ephemeral life we all live. The way Steven died, the unexpected tragedy of it, caused me to ponder how close we all are to death, and how much death actually teaches a person about life and what it means to be alive. I thought to myself, what must he feel right now in whatever form or state he may exist? What lies in store for this poor boy who spent his whole life just trying to move past all that had crippled him? What must it have felt like to have life ripped away from him, like a sudden breeze or a change in the weather? Clearly we may not get to decide or prepare for what mark we leave before we go or what we leave unfinished in our lives.
I don't know what I believe about the afterlife, or even if there is one, but what wasn't an intellectual response to his passing was the longing I felt for Steven. I prayed in my heart that he would find the peace he so longed for, that something bigger than us would give him that. I hoped that there was some force greater than us that would give us a second chance to be the people we tried so hard to be but something always got in the way. I felt I was one of the only people who ever saw the beauty and the sweetness in Steven, and equally importantly the strength he had inside. Steven wanted to live, despite all that had happened to him. He tried to be the best person he could be, and remembered how to let himself love even if it was in the most simplest of ways. My sadness was not so much about death but for the life he was unable to live. I was saddened that his experiences and his relationships didn't blossom to reflect the passion and energy that I saw in his eyes every time I looked at him.
He deserved more out of life than what was offered to him. For that I did feel some pain, but it didn't manifest as explosive tears or painful shock. It was a deeper more concealed pain... the kind of pain that comes from fearing none of us will have the time to live the life we want to before it's over and that our lives can be gone in the blink of an eye, as Steven's was. The reality of impermanence struck me just then, because I realized that the suffering around death is caused not so much by wanting more life, as it is by wishing we had more out of what life we already had been given.
Steven is but a memory now, but those faint soft moments looking into his eyes, watching him smile as I danced to the Nelly Furtado song in my pink dress on my birthday are memories I feel in my soul and they will never leave me. For what it's worth, Steven may have not have made the difference he wanted to in his life, but in the short life he lived, he made a difference to me. His kindness was inspiring, his strength admirable, and his heart a beautiful mystery. But mostly he is a teacher, he taught me that life matters, that every step you take could be your last, and you never know which of your words will be the last your loved ones hear. Death is not something we must fear, what is fearful is the moments in which we forget what it means to be alive.