Sara was frank — though, she blended her terse outlook on the world with a genuine benevolence and practical decency. Her nature emphasized realness, and she had a way of doing this in a way that made you even more secure in the reality she conveyed to you. Even if it wasn’t ideal, it was accurate, and at least now you can plan accordingly.
We grew up in Madera, were close in age, and though we’d attended the same schools — we hadn’t connected until we found ourselves mid-teens and amongst a sea of kids, who like us, used to be listless and bored in our cow town, but now found endless excitement and freedom wherever our skateboards took us.
She took time to connect and cared deeply about all of them. Something I’d always admired through my own aloofness.
It still makes perfect sense to me inside my head even though I can’t put it in words:
Sara, our gaggle of friends and I found perfect space to plant our flag in places that meant nothing to anyone. Shortly after school was out, we’d generally meet at the abandoned Burger King and shift with the shade that would protect us from the blazing sun to the loading dock behind the grocery store.
We’d sit, talk and joke a bit, but mostly we hurled ourselves at chunky concrete ledges or through the air over unkempt patches of dirt that in another time, perhaps, were meticulously landscaped.
My nature was to fret, and worry about imaginary consequences. This made me the odd man out in a group that spent every moment of their free time loitering and trespassing on private property.
Sara helped me see through those fears, mostly through demonstrating her own awareness that nobody was going to send us to the electric chair for skateboarding in parking lots.
I carry this awareness to this day, and some of my funnest memories thus far with my own daughter have been when we’ve followed Sara’s influence to, within reason, go and do things which signs dared us not to.
We never talked much about the future. We never needed a plan. Our lives unfurled, relatively neatly on their own.
Go to school, get out, go skate. The future didn’t have a place in this way of life. Only the present moment. She was a year older, but given this context, nevertheless, I was surprised (and proud) when she left for Columbia College up in Sonora after graduating high school, while our many friends and I stayed to finish up high school.
A month into her time at Columbia College, Sara passed in a single car accident, out late with her new friends. She was 19 years old. Monday was her birthday, she’d be 33 years old.
I’d reckoned with the circumstances for what seemed like a lifetime. That’s sort of how I’m wired. This was one of the first instances in my young life in which my penchant for problem solving was overloaded.
For surviving friends and family, I’ve found that grief is simply a problem that has no solution. It poses a unique challenge for the mind of a fixer. My mind went into a loop that seemed endless. Trying to analyze the catastrophe from any potential angle that might yield another day of skating and jokes with my friend Sara. Trying to reason through the situation to an outcome in which she’d answer my phone call.
That angle didn’t exist.
What will always exist is her influence. Sara touched many people with her sweet and sour personality. She was tough and caring and all at once. Before getting to know her, I didn’t even know that was possible.
But now with age, I see that quality in all my favorite people.
That’s the angle I was looking for and couldn’t find.
The beauty of a life lived, a life loved, a life profoundly missed —
is a memory that remains vivid and carefully preserved with those who one’s shared them with. And an influence that reverberates into the future of bereaved friends and family, forever.
Originally composed as a spoken contribution to the October 29, 2017 Sunday Service @ Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno.