Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Banning Tragedy

Humans have the ability to see faces in clouds, but not clouds in faces.  Therefore, when I think of a planet or asteroid or moon orbiting through space, I can picture a space rock on a cell phone distracted, texting, grumbling about the solar weather, and suddenly, be jolted and smashed by another unexpected event, or, rock, hurtling through space.  

  I was just this planet (definitely in outer space this week!) going about my business of running my orbit, when BAM - an official-looking email:  "announcing the passing of a volunteer."

"Huh?  What?  Wait, I recognize that guy.

I know him.

Knew him."

Wobbling, reading, out of orbit now.  Between a gig and traffic as unforgiving as casual acquaintances debating politics on Facebook, I read the news.  He was gone at 24.  The email was kind and professional, and, as this is a real life thing, the following is my guess, not a fact.  I'm suspecting this distant friend might have accidentally overdosed.  

  When I was a kid, I thought bad people did drugs, and good people did not.  It's the low-resolution view of childhood that works for a bit, at least in the fact of keeping one away from potentially fatal situations, but as time goes by, this theory obviously must be replaced.  I was a sober member of a band of addicts when I was 18.  The music was OK, but the lessons were better. One of the guys had made it to sobriety, and the other two did not.  I've lost touch with them, and they could very well be dead, or will be soon, walking around like kind-hearted zombies, slave to chemistry, unable to break the atomic bonds that shackle them.  (And certainly not for lack of trying.)  

  And so, countless times a cloud of seriousness has passed over my face as I leaned forward, hunched over my guitar, talking with my teenage students about the guys in the band, with their good hearts and great chops and sticky ends of their own making.  My message:  keep your mind your own, and strive upward.  Study hard.  Make something of yourself.  

  I don't know about you, but when somebody dies, I want to do something.  Ban something.  Pass a law.  Start a program.  Talk to people.  Lift them up, toss them a life preserver, rescue them from a stormy sea that flickers behind their eyes when they say "I'm good - can't complain."  

  Immediately, I heard the boarding call for that familiar train of thought.  "Man, we need a program for young people to teach them to value themselves and build leadership and...."

  Suddenly, it came to a crashing halt.  That's exactly where I had met him.  At a leadership program. He wasn't a musician struggling through the lower strata of society, a creature of the haze of dive bars and missed opportunities.  Nope.  

  He was a 15 year old when I met him, and I was 27 or so,  a facilitator at his leadership program.  I took great glee in pounding on this dorm door each morning, "GET UP, PUNKS!  RISE AND SHINE!"  That was our strange male bonding, how guys say "Hey man, you're alright." (You can't do that if the guy isn't alright.) There's a picture of a group of us, all looking out of place in our business casual wear, trying to ignore the summer swelter.  We had sat for three days learning about leadership, character development, and how to make a positive impact on the world.  He returned, year after year, volunteering, growing up, starting to find himself, getting a spiffy haircut, ready to open doors that many people don't even know exist.  

  Then he went to Lollapoolza and died.  

  I went over to Twitter to see what was up.  All I saw were endless selfies and faceless crowds, breathless musicians promoting how cool they are.  And, I mean, sure, they are.  But what a contrast.  The neon colors hurt my eyes today.  

 Sitting in traffic last night, I had to open the window and breathe real.  He's gone.  That fact sat on me like the muggy soup that we call Air in DC.  

  I don't know what happened.  This is all a guess.  Maybe it was a freak accident.  But suddenly, in a flash, all of those protective thought processes of "how can we prevent this?" and "what program can I start?" were seared away, leaving the bones of the matter, and that is, Tragedy.  

  What do you do with that weight, that inescapable fact?  Sit with it, I guess?  You can bet your life that I'll be working harder than ever to lift people up, to show them and myself that we all matter (to borrow a brilliant phrase from my mom.) I think this guy knew that, though.  Sometimes, things happen.  And you can't ban Tragedy.  

  This certainly has altered my orbit.  I'm OK, but changed.  I barely knew him, but will certainly miss him.  He leaves me with much to think about.  

  The Moon has many scars from collisions, fiery cataclysms when something hit it so hard, molten rock was splattered across it's surface.  Some of these were so dramatic, we don't even need a telescope to see the remnants of these events.   And, it shines down on us, with the pockmarked face of a goofy teenager.  I don't know the answer.  But, with this light, I can keep looking.  

  Miss ya, buddy.  



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