It’s been difficult to sit down and write the continuation of my last blog post because I’ve known what it has to be about. I cannot compose another blog post until I write about this. I have told some of these stories on Facebook, on Twitter, but not here. For some reason, writing it here, admitting here that it happened, makes it even more real than I want it to be. It wasn’t what I planned Part 2 to be, but this is how it turned out.
On September 20, two days after posting Guardian, one of my best friends collapsed during a CrossFit session and died of cardiac arrest. He was three days older than me and seemingly in the best shape of his life.
His name was Rob, and he was one of my teammates during my Indiana FFA State Officer year. Each of us played a role on the team, both in an official capacity and as a team member. Officially, he was stationed by the flag as the reporter, writing stories and taking pictures that would inform others about the FFA. As a team member, he was our encourager, whether he was sitting up late to help us with speeches or giving us directions over the phone when we became lost on a back road. He dreamed up crazy ideas and persuaded us to follow him in implementing them. Rob encouraged us to be ourselves and saw potential in everyone he met.
And, in some ways, he was a guardian.
After state officer year, we continued our friendship at Purdue as we both entered the agricultural education major and shared many of the same classes. One morning during our first semester, I woke up from a bad dream in which my friends had abandoned me. I tried unsuccessfully to shake it and the accompanying anxiety. But when I walked into a packed 400-person biology lecture in Lilly Hall and looked up toward the row where my fellow ag ed majors and I usually sat, I saw, in a sea of people, an empty chair. As I approached it, Rob lifted his backpack up from it and set it down on the floor next to his feet. He didn’t say anything. But he had saved the seat for me. On a day when I was trying to convince myself that the dream wasn’t real, Rob proved it. Rob had saved a seat for me. He had not abandoned me. My friends had not abandoned me.
Several years later, Rob was one of the people who got me through my year of teaching. I could call him, and he could talk me through any challenge with his kind way of telling me what I needed to hear. When I had a panic attack at the State Fair the year after I returned from New Zealand, he was the person I went to. I could hardly breathe, and I couldn’t speak. All I knew, all I could think, was that I just had to make it to the FFA Pavilion where he worked as Executive Director, and Rob would take care of me. And he did.
He was such a special friend, and a special person, and a world without Rob in it would have been a harsher and crueler place. It was unthinkable.
And now, here we are.
That brings me back to the story I wrote. The elements I had to include were a casket, a flag, and mourners.
I had thought the story was helping me heal from losing Szarlota.
In reality, I was being prepared for losing Rob.
The elements from this story I had written for a competition were suddenly real life. I was a mourner. The Indiana FFA held a Celebration of Life for Rob, and I was one of the speakers, standing next to an American flag at half-staff. There was no casket, just a small box in front of a picture.
I knew, because I’d written it in a short story a month earlier, that Rob wasn’t in that box. He could not be contained to a box. He would continue to be everywhere because of the way he lived his life: lovingly, kindly, fully.
I’ll end this with words from Rob, words from our state officer year, that are uncanny and wonderful all at the same time. He wondered what we would say about him when he was gone.
Now, he knows.