A beautiful echo

A skateboarder is captured in mid-air, he’s halfway through an olly – jumping off  two stairs and over two humans (his friends). It’s a make or break moment. He’s mid-flight directly above his two friends, who are lying down beneath him. One is throwing a shaka, the other is giving the thumbs up. Two younger kids watch the action from the distant background. They have no shoes. They wait to see if he lands it, or if he crashes into his mates.

This is a story about a friend of mine. He’s the one in the photo lying down beside the yellow line. Lying there in the danger zone. And that’s me, on the skateboard.

None of this was my idea. He believed I could do it — so I had to believe too. Or to put it another way, by believing in me, he’s showing me how to believe in myself. I didn’t think about it like this at the time. I just took a deep breath and went for it.

When he was 20 years old he passed away. My little brother called me up to see if I was ok, but I hadn’t heard the news. His words tumbled through the phone and I felt like I fell out of my body. It was suicide. He had killed himself.

In the days following, his mum invited all his mates over to the house. This was to see his body and say goodbye. I kept putting it off. I couldn’t face it. I felt bad for not going, but I didn’t know if I could handle it. A few friends eventually came and got me, took me to see him. I took a deep breath and prepared for the worst. In the house I saw his body lying there and thought, that’s not him. He looked so different. If it was him, he was gone.

There were others in the room, friends and family. His rugby jersey was draped across him, people had written messages all over it. I think I added mine. I have no idea what I wrote. Over the next few days, weeks, and months I struggled. I thought this can’t be real.

At work one day my boss called me in. He’d heard about it and asked if I was ok. I felt that if I said one word, I would fall apart. So I said nothing and held my breath. He told me to take the rest of the day off. I drove home and sat on the floor in the shower and cried.

Our group of friends stayed tight. We saw each other often, we drank heavily. On the first anniversary of his death, we organised a game of rugby — a sport nearly all of us played. The field was filled with people, friend against friend. We played hard, heavy hits, no holding back. After the game we got together at the local pub and drowned our sorrows. This match has happened every year since.

For the longest time, I couldn’t shake his death. He and I had probably met when we were around 7 years old. We had grown up together. Why didn’t he talk to me about it? Why didn’t he talk to anyone about it? Why choose death? I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t think. It did my head in.

It looped over and over. Him hanging himself alone, swinging. His dead body with his rugby jersey draped over. And then the memory of the last time I saw him alive. It lay over me like a cold shadow.

I didn’t do a good job of talking about it either. The truth is I couldn’t find the words. And even if I did find them, I wasn’t capable of articulating them. So I kept it inside. It stayed this way for many years.

One day the shadow that was wrapped around his memory finally slipped. A different way of thinking crept forward: What if his death didn’t matter? What if what mattered was his life?

It sounds simple but it helped a lot. It allowed memories to creep in. The mischief. The missions. The laughter. The music. All the times when we were kids. All the times when we were older. All the times in-between. The shadow in my head wasn’t gone — it had found a way to coexist.

I started to retrace my memories. I started to think more about what had made him a good friend. I tried to remember the best things about him.

I realised who he was as a person, had helped shape who I was as a person. And I was only just starting to become aware of it.

For the longest time I was scared of finding what drove him to his death. Instead what I found were the secrets to his life. And in a small, strange way, it kind of felt like I had him back again.

Here’s some of the things he taught me, and continues to teach me:

  • Find your discomfort zone
    Going outside your comfort zone came second nature to him. He showed me how to take a deep breath, be brave, and believe in myself.
  • Persistence is unstoppable
    He had a drive like no other, and a work ethic to match. He went beyond his limits constantly, which always pushed me to step up, to keep up.
  • Energy is contagious
    His energy was impossible to resist. Skating, rugby, softball, basketball, cricket, football, touch rugby … to be with him was to be in motion.
  • Nobody is a stranger
    Introducing your friends to your other friends makes everyone into friends. It’s really that simple, and it’s crazy effective. He was the master.

Death is never easy. It’s heart wrenching. But while we are living, we can learn from the best. Because this is what nobody tells you: the best are all around us. Heck, we choose them ourselves. You could even say we handpick them. That’s why they are close to us. We love them and they love us.

I’m convinced that the meaning of life is hiding in plain sight. It’s right there within the people you are drawn to, and care about. Look closer at what they do. Look closer at what makes them them. And you might just see a beautiful echo in your own life.

Lastly, don’t forget to just go do something together.
Anything.

Take it from me, life’s too short not to.

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