I got incredibly sad news that a childhood girlfriend passed away recently.
We were both 15 when we met at a Latvian summer camp and lived in the same cabin for two summers in a row. She was bubbly and funny. I was drawn to her friendly nature as I didn’t know many of the campers during my first summer there. We shared secrets about boy crushes, played volleyball together, giggled at silly stories, snickered relentlessly during chorus rehearsals of the song “Getting to Know You” and planned on having incredible futures–the stuff of romantic movies where you grow up and get a great job, meet a great guy, have a great family and live a great life with a happy-go-lucky soundtrack playing in the background…
But somewhere along the line we grew apart and lost touch. And it turns out her life’s path turned out very differently than planned.
Her death though untimely, as she was only 57 years old, was not really that surprising. You see she fought with inner demons during most of her adult life. She couldn’t seem to find solace anywhere. I had heard stories about her over the years. Stories whispered amongst common friends that detailed years of beyond bad decision making on her part…depressing stuff that happens to troubled women on the Lifetime Movie Channel.
Her life appeared to be a jumble of miserable circumstances rooted from years and years of unyielding drug-addiction, incarceration, loss of family and friends, and in the end homelessness and death.
Remarkably, before I knew of her passing, I had recently gone through an old wicker chest that I kept in the recesses of our garage. I read through what seemed liked hundreds of letters from my family and friends during my high school and college years, childhood drawings and diaries, photographs, trophies, newspaper clippings (Yes, I am that old. I use to cut out interesting articles or sports photos.) And there were the Christmas cards and Birthday cards I kept from treasured friends. And yes there were letters and cards from my lost friend too. She had written happy letters on cutesy stationary with bright colors and flowers…letters with funny jokes. I remembered her idol growing up was the comedian, actor Robin Williams. She could do the best impersonation of him. Interestingly, Robin Williams had a quote: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” I think my friend held on to that a little too tightly. Sigh…
So now I wonder how it came to be that our lives took such separate paths.
But one thing I know is that the funny girl I knew in summer camp would not want to be remembered solely for her unrelenting struggles with mental health problems and drug addiction. She would want for us to remember the part of her that was sunny, silly and hopeful.
And even though I literally hadn’t seen or heard from her in 30 plus years, her untimely death has made a mark on me. A mark that has grown into an epiphany that feels like getting a bucket of ice water dumped on your head.
I can almost see and hear my friend exclaiming, with hands waving, a big knowing smile on her face “Hey you! Don’t be a fool and let your life slip away. There is so much living to do! Carpe Diem while you still have a Diem to Carpe.”
So yes, I will do my best to seize each day I have on this earth. And even though I can easily sour over the current state of the world and the amount of senseless hatred that rears its ugly head on a daily basis, I will try to focus on the goodness too. Isn’t it crazy what good stuff we can take for granted? There is so much goodness and light. You can see it everywhere. For me I see it every day when I get a hello from a friendly neighbor, a lick on my face from my dog, a smile from a loved one or when I witness the sun that shines down on the beautiful nature of California where we are blessed to live.
I am also blessed with health, family and friends. And although I’m not the type to write in a gratitude journal, I will go forward living each day more cognizant and grateful for all the gifts in my life. These gifts include not just current friends but my friends from days gone by.
They may not be a part of my life now, but they have none the less left behind a mark or what I choose to say is a shimmer of their love and friendship that I will always keep in my heart.
So here’s to you my childhood friend! Your shimmer is in there too!
Getting to Know You
by Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rodgers
(from the movie The King and I)
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you
Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me
Getting to know you, putting it my way
You are precisely
My cup of tea
Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say
Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day