I lost a friend on Saturday night.
He was too young for his fate, just a year and change older than me. He truly was the one person whom no one spoke a bad word of. He was dedicated to his craft, dedicated to his people and dedicated to being better than he was yesterday. A guy you were just glad to have met, even if it was only one time.
He was the kind of person who could have easily taken to arrogance – devilishly handsome, well-educated, black NYC transplant to the DMV who yearned for a calling beyond a good job. And yet, in how he connected to the world, he never played to those advantages to further himself. While he certainly must have been competitive in a challenging world, he didn’t see people as opposition or even opportunity. He saw people as… people; flawed and trying to be decent.
He was a good man. A man you would have liked. He probably would have liked you.
It’s a strange and honestly frustrating thing to learn of someone’s passing through Facebook. And yet, the place we avoid our friends and family is the place we immediately find them again when we need to go home and mourn.
(You know, maybe that is the best way to view social media. Twitter is where we enjoy the cacophony of like-minded strangers when society has another conniption about itself. Yet when life directly happens to us, Facebook and our “crazy” family and friends are where we find home.)
On Sunday morning after reaching out to some close friends, I decided to check the social feeds. It’s hard to describe why. Maybe it was to find more information or maybe it was to see if anyone else felt as confused and angry as I was. Yet, I found something else, something I wasn’t looking for, but was relieved to learn.
Reading a few of the remembrances from the numerous friends he made in his life told me about the man he was, the man I wish I had more opportunities to see. The amazing thing about him – a common thread in those words and pictures shared to the world – was that he had an uncanny ability to make a mundane day a good one.
It’s a human trait to recall both ends of the experience spectrum with ease. As we grow older and all of the “best days ever” and “worst days ever” fade into our past, we tend to forget the days that were just… days. Days when nothing catastrophic happens. Days when nothing amazing happens. Days when our lives aren’t changed, but are just going on.
From what I gathered from others, he was exceptional at the days which were just… days. Every single person who commented on his page or tagged him on their own profiles recalled an unremarkable day he somehow made better just by sharing the same space. It was a beautiful real-time tribute in loving memory of him.
When I scrolled through the shared memories, I felt something I rarely feel for anything or anyone. I felt envy.
I was jealous of everyone he ever had obsessive conversations about comic books with. I was jealous of law school classmates whom confided in him their fears of failing the bar exam. I was jealous of the friends he made in countries near and far, enjoying the sights and sounds of places I have yet to know. I was jealous of brides and grooms whom he photographed for his digital scrapbooks (photography was a hobby he was quite skilled in). I was jealous of the friends he developed inside jokes with, if only because something was just damn funny that only they could capture, but no one else could.
After the envy, I turned to our own friendship, as chronicled by Mark Zuckerberg.
In April 2008, we became Facebook friends. Of course, we had become friends long before that, but this sort of sealed the deal in our modern climate. We had talked up sports enough, a milieu of questions and comments about what we saw and how we saw it. In fact, it highlights something beautiful about him; he cared about who you were and wanted to know what got you out of bed every day.
To plenty of people, I’ve always been an easy to access “sports geek” because they wanted Cliff Notes to the stories “everyone is talking about”. Yet, he was one of those who absolutely trusted my perspective because he fully understood that the games were more than entertainment. Whether in a friendly bar on the Upper East Side or a since-closed restaurant in Washington DC, we spoke of these games as social laboratories, civic pride campaigns, business ventures and legal experiments. We spoke of sports from what we knew as precocious kids and what we discovered as cynical young professionals.
And then we spoke of more. Sports can make strangers acquaintances, but the “more” can make acquaintances friends.
Our social media connections extended to Twitter when I begrudgingly joined the service. He was one of the first actual friends I knew on it, which was perfect when it came to shamelessly plugging any of the work I was doing. He was one of the early supporters of a still-fledgling podcast, even one who called in a few times or suggested topics of conversation for future episodes. He would share some ridiculous photos, including a steady stream of stupid cat photos because for whatever reason, cats are the best comedians on the internet. In 140 characters, we’d lament the real life insanity around us or keep tweets light, if only for fleeting moments.
Yet, there was always more. Every social gathering or visits to our respective cities provided chances to get updates on his “more” or my own “more”. Big or small, lighthearted or serious, always ongoing.
As I perused our social media connections, I realized that while I didn’t get a chance to have inside jokes or vacation pictures in faraway lands, I had a unique relationship with him that compelled me to share these words with you. In these solemn days, I can at least take comfort that his life – an all too brief, yet incredibly fulfilling one – belongs to better angels now.
It was a privilege to have been his friend.