Most days what I write here is what you want to read. I don’t mean that in a bad way. After all, you are the reason I am here anyway. If I were interested in writing personal reflections and musing over them privately I would probably just keep a journal (I do that too, by the way). I am here because I am interested in you.
I mean that.
I pour over your comments and ponder each one. I may not always respond, but I am always charmed or amused or inspired as I ruminate over what you say. I check my Google Analytics at a rate that sometimes borders unhealthy, not because I am obsessed with myself but because I am interested in you. I crave collaboration, conversation, community.
Today, though, if you’ll let me, I need to write about something that matters to me. Is that okay? Feel free to listen in. You can pretend that I invited you to my home, that we are sitting in my living room laughing over a cup of coffee. If we were, and if you asked me what was on my mind, I would tell you…
I lost a friend this week, and from the time I found out on Wednesday to the moment I sit to write this today it’s been a slow unraveling of memories and feelings and old friends and regret and sudden wakening to open that chest filled with artifacts I thought I had forgotten, laying on the floor, relics scattered, an aftermath.
I feel like I’ve been hit by a Tsunami.
It isn’t just that Sean is gone, although that is horrible. It’s that Sean’s life didn’t end on account of Cancer or a motorcycle accident or a natural disaster – although all of those things would have been tragic in their own right. What really gets me was that Sean took his own life, a life that was so important to so many people, in so many ways.
I just keep sitting here wondering how Sean could have missed how amazing he was.
I could tell you lots of incredible things about Sean – that he was strong, compassionate, the most generous person I knew, the best listener, but those things are sort of vague and obscure – the kind of things that I could say about a lot of people and not be lying. But Sean was Sean, and I fear that if I described him like that he would just fade into the darkness and you might miss him.
So I want to tell you a couple other things instead.
Sean always had a blue pen – the rolling ball kind – and a pad of legal paper. I was digging through old memories this week and I found an essay Sean wrote right after the Tsunami hit Indonesia several years ago. It was written in that plain, blue ink on one of those sheets of legal paper…
The essay was about that feeling you get in the wake of tragedy and about how, regardless of the magnitude of the damage – whether you’re staring at wreckage on a TV screen, or staring at a person you love deeply and may never see again – the feeling is still the same. Sean wrote…
“It’s like watching your grandmother’s antique vase fall from its pedestal and break. Something beautiful has been shattered irreversibly, irrevocably… we cannot go back now.”
I wonder if Sean knows how many people feel like that today.
Sean could convince anybody of anything. He could convince you to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to drive to the beach just to watch the sunrise. He could convince you to sign a petition, sponsor a child, attend an event. He could convince you to be friends with a person (or, heck, even go on a date with a person) that you always thought you hated.
Sean had an uncanny ability to get a group of unlikely people all in the same room. We were all better for it.
In high school when everyone made it seem like you had to pick a “group” Sean was friends with the “jocks” and the “drama guys” and the “band geeks” (who would later become the coolest of all of us). Then, after high school, when those social constructs didn’t seem so important anymore, Sean focused his attention on peacemaking – mending the relationships among friends and friends of friends that we always did such a good job at breaking.
Sean was constant. We always knew that even if everything else fell apart he would hold it together.
Sean read all the time, more than I read even when I was paying thousands of dollars to read what I was reading. I would call him from Whitworth to complain that I was sick of Plato and he would casually mention that he had “finished” Plato and Aristotle weeks ago. He would read me his highlighted lines and the insights he had jotted in the margins. I would steal his good ideas and get A’s on all my essays.
Sean was the kind of person you could call any time of day – at four in the morning for example (or at midnight to talk until four in the morning) with lofty exclamations that you had discovered the meaning of life, or humble admissions that you had forgotten it. By the end of the conversation, Sean would always have you convinced that everything was going to be okay.
At his funeral, Sean’s mom said, “Sean always wanted to be someone’s hero” and I thought that was so interesting. See, another thing I found as I was digging through old files this week was an essay I wrote, it seems like a million years ago. It was my entrance essay to Whitworth University.
The question I was asked to answer was, “Who is your hero and why?” and my answer wasn’t Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, although both of those would have been appropriate choices. The hero I chose to write about was Sean Barnes. Sean was a hero to me. I’m racking my brain trying to remember if I gave Sean a copy of that essay.
I could write for paragraphs, or days, about Sean, but most of it would be inside jokes and I’m not sure it would make sense, or that it would help me anyway, so instead I want to say two things, if you are still reading.
First, at the risk of sounding cliche, let me say this: Pick up your phone. Call or text the people you care about. Tell them what they mean to you. Don’t assume they know.
And second, if you knew Sean, and you have a thought or a story, would you share it here? It’s the only way I can think of to pick up the pieces of that vase that has shattered and broken. I know it won’t be the same, but for some reason it feels right to try to glue them back together.
Thanks for listening.