Before he got into the driver's seat for the ride that became his last, he spoke to a room of students about caring for one another and thinking globally. His presentation ended with a sentence that summed up the way in which he lived his life:
"Love aint dead."
After that speech, his light blue Acura slammed into an oncoming vehicle.
That's the way he left us, just like that.
For the next few months, I remembered very little, if anything. My body shut down. It hurt too much to feel. And when I started remembering, I still had trouble believing him, believing that "love aint dead."
I didn't understand how a beautiful, vibrant and powerful life could be erased, and how something so awful could be possible in the same realm of reality as love.
But with time, pain heals and maturity grows, and in the last five years I've been through and seen a lot, and he has guided me through it all. Sometimes it's weird, I swear I feel him walking with me, or I see him in a dream, and sometimes it's the voice in my head, of him challenging me to question my beliefs and actions, or of him reminding me to notice the small things:
"Quickly close your eyes. Ask yourself: what color is the carpet?"
If memory is a sign of love, then love can't be dead, because I carry him with me always. Our friendship is still evolving. He is still an influential character in my life's story, even though I've known him longer dead than alive. Most of us have. But as I struggled and soared through India and danced in Cape Town and papered away in college, I imagined him on the other end of the email exchange, always critical, yet always proud.
Friendship has no boundaries.
Last week, almost five years later to the day, a group of us gathered for dinner. Many of us were not friends in his lifetime, but his death has brought us together. We are young, professional, independent, and inspired women. We sat over bowls of pasta and shared our struggles at work, and stories of love and laughter that occur when Outlook is closed. We are all in entirely different walks of live now than we were five years ago when we last saw him. But while I listened to these women speak, I saw him in each one of them, pushing and pulling them to their maximum potentials. An outsider would say that many of these women are already just fine the way they are. But we know better. He was never satisfied. There is always more to grow.
He has brought us together like family, and just like in a family of blood, you still feel connected to those who you don't know well. The same goes for us. Many of these women I met only recently, yet we are bonded by mutual friendships, and our goals to better both ourselves and the world.
Love aint dead.
I was 17 when I last saw him. He was 21. When I think about all the living I've done since then it's a little overwhelming. It breaks my heart to think that all of us who loved him are now older than him, and we have had experiences he wanted. But I'm also lucky, because the last time I saw him he was dancing. Wearing his standard uniform of a white t-shirt, baggy jean shorts, and no shoes, he was dancing in the street as I rode away to the airport.
That's how I hope to remember him, even though it's hard on days like today, when I'm reminded of phone calls bearing bad news and my body temporarily goes numb again. I hope to remember him dancing and singing, with a smile plastered across his face.
I hope to simply remember.
I hope to remember the details, but the sound of his voice is falling from my memory, and so I am left with the bigger picture. I am left with the knowledge that he believed in the good in every person. I am left with the knowledge that he was the only person in my generation who I've ever met that I believe was truly courageous. But mostly, I'm left with the knowledge that even though his death was awful, I know he'd want me to know that he didn't take love with him. If I could, I'd tell him that I know now, and that I owe him credit for a large part of my ability to see the good in the world and to love those around me in the way that I do.
When he died a lot of us lost so much.
But he couldn't kill love.
Joe and Laiah, August 2002, Toronto