This is a story about Nick.
Nick was born 11 days before me, in the same year. I've since found out that he and I were born in the same hospital, and his family moved to Calgary at about the same time as mine did. I've also found out that he and I shared a number of friends over the years, yet we never actually crossed paths that I am aware of. More about him in a minute though.
Twelve years ago this month, one of my very best friends committed suicide. I've written about this before, so for now I'll just say that even though I went to the church portion of her funeral, I never attended the grave-side services. It was months before I was finally able to bring myself to go visit and try to make peace with her passing, but since I didn't know where she was buried, I was resigned to spend the entire day walking around looking for her grave.
If you've ever walked around an entire cemetery, you will know there are little things you learn along the way. The older sections are very grey - there are very few visitors and an ominous feeling hangs in the air. Not twenty feet away, where the more recently departed rest, there is a kaleidoscope of colors, most graves decorated in flowers or ornaments or small tokens in honor of their memory. There is also a lot of dirt, as the grass hasn't always had time to grow yet. Needless to say, within a few short hours and with very muddy shoes, I narrowed down where her plot would be, and finally came face-to-face with the reality of her death. I sat beside her tombstone and talked to her for quite a long time. I had to make peace with her for choosing to leave us all, and though I had never felt anger over her death, after that day I was able to not quite feel as helpless in dealing with it. When I stood up to leave though, something caught the corner of my eye. It was a gleaming white headstone, about four feet tall, and the way the sun caught it I was compelled to go take a closer look.
This is where I met Nick.
As soon as I read his name on the marble, I felt an unbelievable connection. It was as though I had known him my entire life, and I could almost visualize actual memories of him, helped by the fact that there was a picture of him embedded in the marble. He passed away just before his twentieth birthday, ironically in the same month that I had conceived my daughter. His life was ending, and I was bringing new life into the world. I spent a good two hours there trying to make sense of why I felt such a powerful connection to him, but finally wrote it off as having spent too much time around sadness that day and that my imagination was just working overtime.
Over the years though, every time I went to visit Janet, I was compelled to visit Nick as well. I no longer felt as though I was visiting the grave of a stranger, but rather someone that I had once known. I felt as though I was there to mourn his death as well as that of my own friend. Years later, with the help of old newspapers and the internet, I did some research and found out the coincidences about our birthplaces, about our mutual friends, and everything else.
Yesterday, Kat and I were talking about cemeteries, and I was telling her the story about Nick. Today, I was out of the house and all of a sudden knew that I had to go visit again - it had been far too long.
As I pulled into the cemetery, there was a small, old, Asian man walking very slowly, as though in pain, holding a wrapped bouquet of flowers. It was obvious that he still had a long way to go as the graves don't start for quite a distance, plus from experience in walking around the cemetery I know where the predominantly-Chinese section is located and it was far. I pulled over and asked him if he would like a ride, and though he spoke very little English, he climbed into my car and pointed to direct me where to go. Now I'm not really in the habit of picking up strangers and letting them into my vehicle, but under the circumstances, there was no way I would consider doing otherwise.
When we reached the area he wanted, he turned to me and gave me a sad little smile. He reached out and squeezed my hand in thanks, and exited my car. I watched him for a few moments as he made his way through one of the greyer areas of the graveyard, and I could only imagine that his wife had passed away many years before, and that he still made his way out here once a week to bring her flowers. Hers was the only grave that still had color on it for miles.
After making my way back, I stopped by Janet's grave first. I felt terrible that one of my best friend's final resting place is a mere 40 blocks from my house and I haven't stopped by in years. I spent a considerable amount of time at her plot, silently going over everything that I wished I could say to her, filling her in on everything she has missed, and once again making my peace with her untimely death.
Afterwards, I made my way over to Nick. I spent some time there, thinking about this person who I never met, yet had touched me in such a profound way. I had always thought, with every part of my soul, that he and I were destined to meet, yet we didn't. Was it because death took him before that could happen, or was it because we missed out on the opportunity while he was alive - that is what I didn't know and had always dwelled on. It may sound silly, but I honestly believed there was a portion of my life that he should have been a part of - no matter how big or how small.
I was wrong though. I was never really able to put my finger on it until today, and though I still don't have it all figured out, there is some semblance of reason in my mind now. The thought I couldn't shake today, as I sat in front of his grave, was about all the people that I have met through the strangest of circumstance. Since the inception of this blog, I have met over a hundred people in real life who I never possibly could have crossed paths with otherwise. With that comes hundreds of memories to draw upon. Factor in the chats, the games, and the late night phone conversations, and I now have thousands upon thousands of memories that wouldn't have been there had I not taken the time to start this, or gathered up the nerve to make that first trip to Vegas.
For the past twelve years, I had been trying to figure out what Nick represented to me, and I finally realized today that I had it backwards. It was not what he represented to me, it was how I perceived what I represented to him. I had the chance to live my life still. I had the chance to not miss out on opportunity. I had the chance to go out and meet people and experience new things. Looking at Nick, I was looking at myself, and was reminded that I was still able to go out and grasp every opportunity possible. To me, he represents all the people that I actually HAVE met through strange circumstance, that never expected to and really never should have, had my life played out any different.
I've vowed to myself to take whatever chances life presents to me, because I don't want to look back in twenty or thirty or forty years time and have any regrets. I don't want to miss out on any opportunities. I don't want to miss out on meeting those people who have, and will continue to enhance my life.
I want to be able to go visit Nick, and let him live vicariously through me.