There’s a famous line in the relatively obscure movie Freedom Writers that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it in context. ‘You know what’s gonna happen when you die? You’re gonna rot in the ground.” – Erin Gruwell. The context speaks to a young African American student wanting to be recognized as an original gangster – instead of living by society’s standards. I’m struggling with this statement today as I recognize the loss of another young man in our community to drugs. I want people to remember him. I want people to recognize the value of genuine beauty he brought to the people he interacted with in his world. I don’t want people to remember the mistakes he made that cost him his life. He was just growing up, and he made an egregious decision that effected his well being, and it ultimately tested his mortality and won.
I have spent a lot of the last week pouring over his Facebook page looking at the commentary from his friends that supported his recovery; a constant barrage of positive words in countless threads offering hope and prayer for this delightfully idyllic young man. Those posting are gradually moving to quiet and heart-felt memorials, as people begin to recognize his hours are now seemingly limited, perhaps reached at this writing, and people are now asked to remember his spirit and the moments that he touched their lives with his remarkable energy. I glance back at that opening comment in the movie, and I realize it was delivered harshly to drum home an important point. We cannot, no one in fact, overcome the grasp of our human condition’s mortality.
The time for this young man to depart may very well have been far too soon for those closest to him; indeed, also for those whose love for him goes well beyond an occasional encounter, those who knew of his positive spirit at parties and gatherings, those who remember his dynamic upon entering any room of people. Yet, today I wonder if this might be God’s plan. Are we not often asked to face our important decisions when we experience a major crisis? Does that moment often not change our lives, or at least put us in a position to start to actively make healthier choices? Perhaps we need to really grasp the reality of this occasion and recognize that this young man’s early departure is meant as a harsh learning tool for those closest to him, beyond the agonizing family, and more directly to the people in his social circles that likely carry on similar lifestyles.
So when I speak of the beauty of a young man, I also ask that all of you, young people and old please respect the diligent nature of artificial stimuli that is not meant to interact with your human capacity. I ask all of you to speak to each other, and help one another know there are other healthier departures from the daily grind, than the insidious gesture of testing your mortality at the hands of an illicit drug of choice.
I am my own example of the harsh reality of drug and alcohol use. I am standing here today with an addictive personality. I am realizing how vulnerable we all are to our own selfish pursuits, even when we’re not aware of how quickly these ideals may turn our lives upside down. I have experienced consequence, and am perhaps fortunate that my actions did not sacrifice my own humanity when as a young experimenter I thought I could beat any challenge. Today, I know I cannot and know I have to take a higher road, and acknowledge the damage that drugs could very well continue to wreak upon my life. I now look towards my children, my students, and anyone that feels they have that ticket to escape the fragile reality of our mortality and I plead with all of them, I beg all of you to take a pause, be grateful, and go forward with your life in a healthy and respectful manner.
Rest in peace and Godspeed to our good young man of smiles. Others will certainly join you very soon on this fast course to immortality. Eventually we will all be there with you as the natural course of time calls out our number. I hope that your example can help a few fend off that early departure from life as we know it today.