Write letters to your friends while they’re still alive
I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot this week. Not in a “I’m afraid to die” sort of way, but more in a “Wow, how lucky are we that we were given this blink of eternity in which to feel anything in a cold and emotionless cosmos?”
I’ve been thinking of the impermanence of permanent things. How can someone be here one minute, and then not the next? And be physically gone, but more present than ever before?
In the age of modern medicine, most of us will make it to our thirties without having experienced the passing of a friend. Our personal experience with death is often relegated to funerals for older relatives. So when I found out this week Alex had passed, it hit me really hard.
We hadn’t talked much in the last two years. When I first learned he was ill, my reaction vacillated between angry and sad. Angry that someone who brings so much life and joy and happiness to this world, who knew how to be more fully present in any moment than just about anyone else I’d ever met, wasn’t going to be with us much longer. I felt sad I had let our friendship wither. I felt sad that someone who really shaped my San Francisco experience was never going to know just how much he meant to me.
So his friend suggested I write a letter to tell him. Texts and emails and calls require an acknowledgement, a response—and taking time to respond to a past acquaintance isn’t a good use of limited energy. So I wrote a letter instead (parts of which I’ll share below).
And then I thought: I shouldn’t wait until a friend is dying to tell them what they mean to me. None of us should. And I know everyone says “tell people how much you love them in the moment,” and that’s fine and true and great. But I challenge us all to write letters more often. I still have cards and letters that people send me and it lifts my spirits to re-read them when I have a tough day.
Here’s my letter to you, Alex. I should have written it two years ago. I’m so immensely grateful I was able to tell you these things before it was too late. And I choose to share it so publicly because you remain alive in all of our memories, and if this helps bring you more fully to life for just a moment for someone else, then it’s done it’s job. I know I’ve smiled a lot this week, too, through the sadness, reading other people post their memories of you.
You’re one of a kind.
It’s been some time. Sometimes, friendships grow apart. Sometimes, I hate that they do. You’re one of those friendships I miss.
I’ve grown up a lot in the last 12 months. I’d imagine you have, too, whether you wanted to or not. I think I’ve finally found the confidence in my opinions, desires and voice that you always knew was there, and let go of the things that no longer serve me. San Francisco is home now — in each and every moment — but the first time I felt truly in awe of the city and that I had made the right choice in coming here was with you, actually.
I’ll tell you about the day: It was Super Bowl Sunday, and a friend of Connie’s connected her with Jesse because we were new in town and knew no one, and wanted to have a fun Super Bowl experience. You were hosting a party in your place in South Park, and the champagne was flowing, the conversation lively and I immediately felt like a fish out of water. “I think these girls spend more on their highlights than we do on rent,” Connie observed.
I made the mistake of wearing my Oregon Duck Rose Bowl shirt — it was the only football gear I had other than Seahawks, so chose the lesser of two evils. But it would appear I chose…poorly. You immediately noticed it and started razzing me. But, more importantly, you made me feel at ease. You were the only person there that I felt comfortable with. We hijacked the music with “Under the Sea” — we thought it was hilarious and weren’t sure why no one else did. Weirdos. Disney is the best.
But the moment, yes. It was on your deck, and I walked over to the far side facing the bay bridge and just…smiled. The beauty and kindness and opportunity in the city overwhelmed me, and I felt immense gratitude in that moment.
My first hike over the other side of Golden Gate was with you, too, so it was the first time I got the magnificent view of our city from that vantage point. Another moment of gratitude.
Coachella, you were the best music festival partner a girl could ask for. Totally committed to running to shows, sticking together, and strong enough to hoist me on your shoulders for the special moments. Every year when the photos come back up online, I smile. But that trip meant more to me, too — I had been pretty sheltered my whole life, so it was actually my first group trip, and I remember when we walked in and the first thing I saw was Nick dancing around with a unicorn mask on his head and I felt apprehension. “What did I just get myself into?” I remember thinking. And then when he crashed out in our bed and you were like…”I’ll sleep on the couch,” I remember telling you that that didn’t feel like a better solution to me, so we had an awkward night with the three of us squeezed together in a tiny bed.
And how can I forget Bay to Breakers? “LK, do you know about Bay to Breakers? It’s the best day all year in San Francisco!” And you were right. We cut up our Cards Against Humanity shirts and ran to catch up with the actual mess of humans around Hayes and I couldn’t believe our city could do something so fun and crazy. I remember my one goal for the day was not to get separated from you — you were a B2B pro. Camel back full of beer, jambox pumping tunes. You led the fun, and the fun followed you.
Looking back, I was stupid. I don’t know why I fought the idea of a romantic connection between us so hard. I loved spending time with you; we were compatible in a lot of ways; you were good to me; you have talents too numerous to list here and…though I tried to pretend otherwise…we had a lot of chemistry. Now that I have a few more years on me, I understand how stubborn I was, and for no good reason. Any woman would have won the lottery to be able to call you her partner.
I’ll always be so grateful for our night at the ballet, and the Stanford game you took me to, where I made those overly-strong green tequila jello shots that you drank anyway :)
Whether you realized it or not, you shaped a large part of my San Francisco experience. There’s only a handful of people I can say that about. I didn’t see it at the time, but looking back, it’s impossible to miss.
I think about you often, actually — more so during football season, of course :) But often. I should’ve been more persistent with reaching out. There’s a lot of things we can say we should’ve done. For me, there’s not a lot of things I can say I regret. I regret that.
And now to the thing I want to dance around, to pretend isn’t real, that’s been on my mind all day since I found out last night: This isn’t fair, plain and simple.
You are the glue to so many circles. Your sense of adventure buoys ours. Your generosity encourages others. Your guidance helps us make better choices. Your silliness reminds us to laugh. You lead by example.
You’ve done more in 36 years than most could do in multiple lifetimes. You are blessed, and you are loved.
Once you’re recovered and feeling like your old self, let’s go get a beer. I’m buying.