Sunday, December 30, 2012

My dear friend I never met....

It is amazing how entire periods of your life can be forgotten until something suddenly brings it back. It is also amazing how something that speaks so strongly to the type of person you are can be totally left out of your life story.

We all have that spoken resume we are able to rattle off when we meet new people. It normally consists of age, career, marital and child status, place of residence and if those meeting you are lucky, a bit of insight into your personality and passion. Typically when you meet someone new for the first time, you are really only getting what they want you to know. What that person feels is most relevant to that point in time. If you are meeting them at your kids' soccer game, it may be a bit about your child, family and perhaps your own soccer experiences. If you are meeting someone at a networking event, your spoken pitch will obviously include your work experiences, talents etc. We obviously do have a certain amount of control in ensuring those we meet get the story we think they should walk away with.

This certainly does not take into account stereotypes, snap judgements and first impressions that are sometimes out of our control. Perhaps someone is observing you from across the room, I know I personally love people watching. Maybe you had a really bad day, are extremely tired, or are an introvert like me. I am never quite sure how I come across to others. I have often joked about my v-line to a wall whenever possible. Whenever I am at an event, party, etc, with more than a couple of people, I always try and find a wall to stand against. It is like an anchor for me. It makes me feel safe and comfortable. I really do love people, I can just get extremely overwhelmed when there are lots of them. I am often fearful this may make me come across as not interested, not friendly, etc. It makes me sad to think that my being an introvert can be misinterpreted.

While I am often not comfortable in groups, I am extremely comfortable one-on-one and through cards, letters, e-mails, etc. Basically, I am extremely comfortable and happy in my writing. I feel like writing gives me an opportunity to get my words and thoughts out. Sometimes I feel like when I talk, I don't always get my point across, or a I speak too fast and what I am saying is not being absorbed. Sometimes I also feel like I may be too shy or nervous to say how I feel, or voice something that may be very personal for me. I have always found that I am able to do this through words. Perhaps it is because I find it easier to write than to speak. I know this is something I do have to work on, but I am grateful that I am at least able to share through written word what I cannot always vocalize.

So, where is all of this coming from. On our drive to my aunt and uncle's Christmas party today, I began telling Greg about Eric Cook. When I was in high school, I remember seeing an article in the Telegram and Gazette about a Whitinsville Christian student by the name of Eric Cook who was battling cancer. I remember the article so vividly because the picture was him and many of his classmates who had all shaved their heads in his honor. It touched me. The picture and the article really spoke to me and forever changed me.

Once again, my words were able to take care of something I knew I would never do otherwise. I was able to find Eric's address and I soon thereafter began writing to him. I honestly am not sure what I said in that first letter, my heart just really needed to reach out. I wanted him to know I was thinking of him and that he and his family were in my thoughts. I honestly was not sure what he would think of my letter, but at that point, that was not my concern. I really just wanted him to know there was someone out there that was thinking of him and that was trying to find her own way to honor him at good ole' Uxbridge High School.

It was all so long ago, I honestly do not remember the entire sequence of events. I want to say all of this, because I am sure some of the events may be out of order and not exactly 100% word for word conversations, but my words are who I am and I really think I need to find more ways to stay true to them.

Over the course of a few months, I ended up sending him additional letters. I sent him a lucky penny, I know I sent him my worry fish at some point and I think my worry dolls. I wanted to send him things that I thought could be seen as small tokens of my caring for him as a human and as a human going through difficult times. I know we all look for different types of comfort when we are suffering, and this was my small way of trying to let him know I cared for him and that I was thinking of him.

At some point, I had heard through the grapevine that he had been receiving my letters and appreciating them. I know that at some point I received a letter from Eric's mother, I believe, along with a picture of Eric. I still have this picture in my old wallet. Whenever I open my old wallet, I see a face that makes me smile. His mother thanked me for my letters and let me know how much Eric appreciated them. She also let me know that Eric was very shy and was hoping to meet me to thank me in person. I do not remember exactly what the letter said, I do hope I have it still at my parents' somewhere, but I remember being really touch and that it really warmed my heart. Eric's mother had also mentioned that she had hoped we could meet and that she hoped Eric would write back to me as well.

It was shortly thereafter that I decided that I wanted to get other people from Uxbridge involved. I created Eric Cook ribbons and was distributing them to people I thought may care to care. I remember wearing one on my backpack and I can also remember writing his initials on my Field Hockey stick. I am not sure what it was about Eric that spoke to me. I don't know if it was that it felt like it was hitting so close to home (so publicly the next town over), or if was cancer (losing both of my Grandfathers to cancer), but he was in my heart.

It also inspired my lucky penny idea that came shortly thereafter for school.

So, after receiving the letter from Eric's mom and then hearing through the grapevine that my letters were appreciated, I heard one day that Eric was not doing well. I remember being really heartbroken, but not really knowing what to do. I didn't know him, I had never met him and I did not know any of his family members. How do you reach out to someone and their family if you do not even know them?

Shortly thereafter, Eric passed away. I went to his wake with a friend of mine, I believe. I signed the book walked in, knelt down, and that is where I met Eric, my dear friend, for the first time. I had never met him, but I cared for him. My heart was hurting, yet I did not know what to do. I hugged his mother, father and brother, that I remember. Other than that, it is really a blur. I remember not knowing what to do. I wanted to introduce myself to his parents because I knew they had wanted to meet me, but their son's wake certainly did not feel like the right place.

Fast forward a few days, or weeks. I heard from one of my friends, whose mother worked at a bank had seen his parents and let us know they had asked about me. They saw my name in the guest book at the wake and were sad I had not introduced myself. I also learned that they found out I played softball and would be at the field that week. I was told to go up to the baseball game and introduce myself.

I can remember being really nervous about it. I did know what to say to these parents who recently lost their child. I did not know what they thought of me, this random girl, sending their son she had never met, encouraging notes. I really didn't know what to think. All I knew is that I was told they wanted to meet me. I went up to the baseball game and met Eric's dad. What an amazing and wonderful man. He gave me the biggest, most wonderful hug. I honestly felt love from him. He thanked me for all I did for Eric. To be honest, I did not really think I did anything, I was just trying to let him know someone was thinking of him and trying to think of things to make him smile.

From that moment on, I always looked forward to seeing Eric's parents. They would come to George's sometimes when I was working and his dad would call to me through the window. He would always have a great big smile on his face. I loved seeing them. I often think of them and wonder how they are doing. I often wonder if they have any idea how much I appreciated them and how much of a difference their son made in my life.

I find heads-up pennies all the time. Whenever I see them, I have to pick them up. I know people find pennies all the time, I have no doubt, but pennies just have a very special meaning for me. They remind me of Eric. They remind me of the lucky penny I sent him and they remind me of the lucky pennies I put together at UHS for all students on the first day of school. They remind me that the little things are what are most important. They remind me how important random acts of kindness are, they remind me that I am a caring person and while that often opens me up to getting hurt, it is who I am. I try and remember Eric whenever I doubt my instincts for writing a caring note, or card, or e-mail, or giving words of encouragement. Eric helps remind me what I appreciate most about others and myself. Eric helps me remember how important it is to have no regrets and to pay it forward, always.

Eric, wherever you are, thank you. Thanks to you and your family for graciously accepting my outreach and for your love.

Eric, my dear friend I never met, you are in my heart always.

and that's all she wrote....

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