Life is a fragile gift that’s too often taken for granted.
My high school class of 2002 isn’t meeting for our 10-year reunion for another two years, but this morning dozens of my classmates met to celebrate the loss of one of our own. One person described the scene outside the church as “A Shakespeare tragedy meets High School Musical.” Exactly.
I’m not going to claim that I knew Ben and that we were even close friends, we were acquaintances at best. Ben was part of the “popular” group and was the captain of the soccer team (and at our school that was the sport to watch and play…while he was captain, the soccer team was ranked #1 in the nation). So while his social status practically allowed him to be snobby and too-cool for everyone, Ben disregarded his popularity and treated everyone like they were old friends.
His generosity, respectfulness, outlook on life, and overwhelming passion for his friends, school, and team were seen by everyone. I don’t know how many people besides those I see on a day-to-day basis that I could say that about. Like I said, he and I really weren’t friends, he was just a guy I knew of and maybe talked to occasionally, but the fact that I saw those traits in him—and from afar—let me know the kind of man he was.
The news of his passing hit me hard, and I’m still not entirely sure why. Today, at the funeral service, I overheard two older gentlemen talking. One of them reflected, “A lot of his high school friends are here. Most of them haven’t had to go through the death of a friend yet, maybe their grandparents or older relatives, but never anyone this young before.” And he’s exactly right.
I’ve been to funerals for two grandparents, one uncle, and countless extended relatives, but never for someone my own age. When you’re in your 80s and 90s and pass away it’s more of a celebration of life than a time to mourn. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a time to be sad, but you almost want to celebrate the long life they had and all the wonderful things they did. But when someone dies at 26 years old? That’s just too young to die. He had a fantastic 26 years, but what else could he have accomplished?
I think the reason this death shook me up so much is because it could have been any one of my friends in that car. A friend of mine started a Facebook group for friends to leave messages to and about Ben, and I’ve found myself drawn to reading what people have to say. I may not have seen these people for more than eight years, but I strangely feel closer to them now than I did when we were in high school.
I don’t really know how to close this post, because this is still very heavy on my heart, but I’ll leave you with this: I debated going to the service this morning, because I wasn’t close to him. But then I thought about it and decided to attend because if I were in his shoes—if I had died in that car accident and not him—I would want my parents, family, and friends to know that I touched the lives of people I wasn’t even close to and that people can leave an impression in your life with a simple smile.