Tuesday, June 30

Reflections on Gratitude - In Memoriam: Steve M-

Today is the day of the memorial service, in Toronto, for my high school and mid-life friend, Steve M-.  I would like to use this space to honour him in the way I know best - by writing about him.

We hit day 315 and it feels like a slide into the home base of a year, now.  I wish Steve could have been here for this milestone.  I wish he could have made it to 365 days of Gratitude.  I wish he could have made it to 10,000 days.  Like all of us who knew him, I just wish he was still here.

I am over the shock of his death and when shock passes, we are left with the emotions and the memories. 

The thing is....I don't really remember Steve.  Of course I remember the man I've come to know over the past 10 months or so...but I don't remember high school Steve.  That is not particular or unique to Steve.  I have very few memories of that time.  Maybe its a function of a head injury sustained in a car accident in 1990.  Maybe its been compounded by the lack of recall that my current nebulous condition seems to bring at the most unexpected times.  The fact is that I really don't remember high school Steve.

Perhaps we were briefly close in the few years we spent in high school.  Most of my friends have left beautiful tributes to him attesting to their close personal friendship.  I don't remember.  Perhaps I had an earth shattering crush on him.  I don't remember.  I didn't remember he was a photographer, and apparently a pretty good one at that.  I don't remember if he took any photos of me for the yearbook or shot any of those that are among my most cherished from high school because they give me a snapshot in time where my memory should be.  I don't remember if he was behind the lens or a part of creating those very moments.  I don't remember if we ever had a long talk about life, love and our futures at a high school dance or in the smoking lounge.  I don't remember if he smoked.  I don't remember if he was a hockey team mate of my once and briefly-loved boyfriend, Lorne.  I don't remember if he worked in the same minimum wage company as I did.  I don't remember if we worked together at the movie theatre where we both had worked.  I just don't remember.

After Steve died, Peter P- posted a high school photo of Steve.  None of the specifics of time or place came back to my memory, but a tide of feelings rushed in.  And perhaps, more than the memories of which I have been robbed, it is the feelings that matter most.

All I remember about Steve from high school was that he was a good person and that he was always kind.

I hope I was kind, in return.  That is how I would like to think he remembered me.

I will remember the adult I came to know and about whom I came to care. It has only been a month since I learned of his death and a day doesn't go by that I don't miss him.

Steve and I re-connected via Facebook some time ago but I never really paid particular attention to his posts until he started to post things that sounded a little - well - anguished.

I didn't want to intrude.  I didn't really remember our friendship or whether I was kind to him so I wasn't sure if my email would be welcomed.  But I emailed him anyway.  He told me he was posting for someone else.  Yeah. Right.  At least I was clued in enough to see through that, and it started a dialogue between us. 

He was often awake late at night and would ask:  Is anybody out there?   Living in London and usually writing, I was able to respond.  I think I only ever talked to Steve in the middle of the night.

He was a romantic.  He had had a failed marriage but had fallen in love again.  I thought whoever the girl was...she was darned lucky to have such a tender hearted man.  As keen as he was to move on with his life, he never spoke ill of his ex, and I admired him for that.  He told me he was a drug and alcohol rehab counsellor.  I suspect that wasn't the entire truth but now I will never know.  He was a constant encourager, eager to see my finished book, complimenting me on my photography, telling me that I was still beautiful and that the man that I was crushing over was an idiot if he didn't see that. 

I've heard others allude to it...and I have to say...that for the few months we were in touch, he was like the brother I never had.

He was encouraged by my Gratitude practice.  In a frenzy of enthusiasm, he embarked  on his own practice on Facebook and for a short time it seemed to bring him great joy.  Like many, he fell off the wagon after a few days and, like most, having fallen off, he didn't get back on.  Why?  I'll never know.  I can only say that people who fall off a practice often feel too ashamed to draw attention to their weakness by dusting themselves off and getting back on.  Did failure make him feel ashamed?  Was shame a central theme of his life? Did he struggle to find 3 things each day for which to be grateful?

I will never know.

I didn't have a great grasp on the circumstances of his life.  I only got to know him again towards the end of it.  I knew something was not quite right when he disappeared for a few days and had been in hospital.  He had been mugged and looked like he had been badly beaten.  The police had been involved.  I knew something wasn't right by the way he wrote.  He seemed to be angry at several people and feel that they were against him.  There was a frantic, caged animal feeling to his part of the dialogue.  I tried to be a comfort to him.  I tried to reason with him.  He didn't want reason and he cut off the conversation.

Was there someone really against him or was it in his mind?  I will never know.

I didn't hear from him again for several weeks and then he was the jolly Steve I knew and he asked if he could use one of my photographs.  I gave him permission and the discussion of the photo was the last exchange we had.

It was a couple more weeks before Arlene asked if I had heard from him.  I hadn't. She was worried. And then I got worried, given the strange things he had been saying and his erratic behaviour before he went silent. 

She tried, I tried...I think we all tried to reach out to him.

But he was having none of it.

When I learned that he had died, I had the inevitable reaction of guilt.  Why hadn't I tried harder to reach him?  Why had I not followed up on the last email about photography?  Why had I not understood what all that erratic behaviour was warning?  But the fact is - I just could not have known.

I don't know Steve M-.  And in some ways, I think Steve M- didn't want to be known.  Do any of us know anyone else -  really? 

People talk of his demons finally getting the better of him and I gather now that he may have had an alcohol abuse problem.  Is that true?  I will never know.  How he died, I will never know.  Who he was, in the softest part of his heart in the latest hour of the darkest night?  I think I began to touch on that in our shared middle of the night musings...but now, I will never know.

I will never know the real Steve M- , and I barely remember the high school Steve.  The shock has passed, I am left with only my feelings and my patchy memories.  I feel such an overwhelming sadness over his far too early death and the tumult that I could not fully understand or hope to assuage.  And yet, the feeling that hums in the background of all of this is one of gratitude. 

I am so grateful for that young boy who made so many good friendships in high school and whom I remember with warm affection.  As a man, what I know of him makes me cry with tears of gratitude for his all too brief but shining moments in my life.  I will always be grateful for all those shared middle of the night Facebook musings and his faith in the future - at least, in my future - if not his own.

I wish he could be here to see the dreams that he encouraged in me actually come true.  I wish he could be here to see his own dreams come true.  I wish he could just be here. 

I miss him terribly.

All I really know and all I will remember about Steve M- was that he was good and that he was kind and that I'm grateful for the little time we had together. 

And I think that is how all of us would like to be remembered.

Photo courtesy of Peter P- and copyright Bayview Secondary School - from the Annual Yearbook.

And in memory of Steve, Roger Hodgson wrote it better in the Logical Song than I ever could:
"There are times   
When all the world's asleep,    
The questions run so deep   
For such a simple man.  
Won't you please,   
Please tell me what's aglow?    
I know it sounds absurd,    
But please tell me who I am?" 

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