Friday, June 22, 2007

A dying friend

I got a call from the Pastoral Care office at the hospital where I did my training hours: Bryan, a friend of mine from JHS/HS, is dying from a stroke to the brain and a smashed skull (injury from falling during stroke). Absolutely random genetic malfunction.

For me last afternoon was taken up primarily by spending time with his family in the ICU waiting room. He was classified as "bear in a cage", which is what the hospital calls patients with circulatory or sedation issues who can't have visitors due to the fact that any shift in emotional state can cause increased blood flow that might interfere with treatment. But little matter, prayers work just as well outside of the glass.

Bryan's a very interesting character, and our relationship the past decade has been equally interesting. Although we never lost touch, it's no secret that beginning in mid-HS we took different paths. Yet, there is a convergence of roads, in a sense. When we visited last December there was none of the cocky egocentric boy that I had slowly parted company with for my own health. No, he was a real man, and had very different priorities. He'd basically rearranged his life around raising his daughter, holding down a steady job, and becoming serious about God.

Strangely, I felt that my lack of consistent contact never registered to him as something malicious or cowardly. He still treated me as a close friend, however distant, and in some respects closer than the thug pack he'd often chosen for his young adult peer group. I felt that he always knew deep down that it was those of us who knew him before a series of scarring decisions, that understood what he was all about; who he yearned to be. I must admit to being somewhat flattered that the family told pastoral care to contact me "if at all possible". Of all people I didn't deserve the request, nor did I deserve the priest-without-a-collar role that the family assigned to me.

Luckily (as I've mentioned previously) I could be of some use since death and suicides were always pastoral strong points for me. People in these situations are without fakeness. They're beyond the trivialities that govern most of our lives. They're given over either to emotiveness or silence, but in all cases seriousness; grappling with what lies beyond; understanding finally the frailty of the human condition. Never more so than in the death of a young person. But with Bryan i'll add one thing - he lived that way too. Especially in his last couple of years, the artificiality had worn off. He was sincere, devoted, and forward. I believe that these are all qualities that stem from knowledge of ourselves as living dead men, as Christ understood. We must all be in the tomb eventually. Can't fake it then. Why fake it now?

Of course as I write this, Bryan would probably be the first to tell me "INDY". It's a phrase we used when playing war games against each other way back in the day. It means "I'm not dead yet." Normally it was a way to tell the winner of a large battle that the war was not yet over, in spite of their (mandatory adolescent) bragging. But the doctors say less than 1%, and even if life is bestowed, likelyhood of serious damage is almost 100%. Miracles can and do happen. We've all got that story of the 1%'er who made it. But, miracles aside, everyone seems to be of the impression that it's all over but the shouting.

So now I begin to reflect on his life. Three things strike me about our friendship. I apologize for any repetativeness:

First, I will always count as friends those who, however distant they have become, were my companions when it wasn't the cool thing to do. Truth is, i'm usually a pretty well-liked guy these days, but it wasn't always so. There was a time when I was basically the chubby little introspective nerd. There was nothing to be gained by being my friend except me. I only had my companionship and friendly and imaginative (some would say delusional), if not socially awkward personality to offer in return. He took that deal.

Secondly, we spent a lot of time playing games, especially role-playing. This may seem trivial, but I would disagree with anyone who ventured that opinion. It was a central part of who we were as a group. We valued people, time with each other, and the creativity of other people more than girlfriends and beer parties. It was a way to get away from what we collectively viewed as the petty boredom that most mid-teenagers suffered through their obsession with irrelevant things things. Role-playing represented our youthful longing for something beyond the five senses. It's not accident that we have all five become religious people, two of us professionally. It was our way to deny what society valued and to express our difference not in self-effacing rebellion, but in a positive expression of the heroic life we longed to live.

Plus, role-playing became for my friend an icon of what he was and wished to return to; the path he retrospectively wished he'd taken. I still remember last December, his health already waning, the one thing he still wished was to role-play with "the old crew". It was his way to reach out and tell me that those were the days when he was proud of who he was, and of the company he kept. "I'm always down. Man I miss those days so much. Anytime if I'm not working just call me up." Eleven years after he last busted out the dice to play with us, he told me that he still possessed several of his character sheets, just in case.

Lastly, although he is expiring so young, he accomplished something that few in our society ever will: He became a real man. By this I mean firstly that he became a true child of God. It's when Christ was on the cross, crucified for our sins that Pilate told those around him: "Behold the Man." Not "a" man, but The Man. Bryan accomplished what I also want to say of myself one day - he stood at the foot of the cross and saw himself truly. Unabashed recognition of his own sinfulness, fully aware of his numerous self-inflicted wounds, never blaming anyone for leaving him, or for the burdens he was having to bear for others (and there were plenty). His concern was especially high for his younger siblings. His main wish was that they would be anything but him. On his myspace page, under his "Heroes" it reads: Jesus, our lord and savior.

Whatever his numerous shortcomings, he is passing away as a true friend, a totally devoted father, a surrogate provider for the family, a hard worker, and a child of God.

Wish he were with us now. Wes and I were looking for another player. It's just not the same role-playing with two. Ah well.

Keep the dice close amigo. We've got plenty of character sheets. The old crew will all be there soon enough, without the world to part us, without time to end the sleepover. There will again be wizards, warlocks, and starships. Forgive us when we forget you as we go about our lives. And until we're all together again: "Behold, The Man."


Post a Comment

<< Home