The text shocked me. “James* died.”
The day before, I was with the leader of our writer’s group, and we talked about James, wondering where he was. He hadn’t attended a meeting for the last couple of months which was unusual. He had been a fixture. But I suppose it never occurred to us that something was wrong as we only met twice a month, and during the summer, members often didn’t come.
The next day, the leader decided to contact him through Facebook and that was when she learned of his passing and texted us. Again, I was shocked. But I wasn’t close to him. He often spoke out of turn and could make people annoyed and uncomfortable. He had trouble picking up societal cues, he was way too honest in his opinions. His unfiltered opinions could rub others the wrong way.
When I read his Facebook page the other day and the kind words posted about him from friends and co-workers, I had a strange reaction. I immediately doubted many of the posters because their words reminded me of another Facebook page, the page of a man I grew up with. Reed was different too and it made him an outcast growing up. His father was dead, his mother elderly. He had a bad case of eczema all over his hands and arms. More importantly, he didn’t understand societal cues either. He would be insulted and ridiculed when he spoke, telling tall tales, hoping people would think he was cool. He even tried to buy the class’s friendship one time, bringing a huge bag of candy that he threw to his grasping classmates. He was popular for the five minutes he held up the package and threw the contents. Then he was disparaged once again. I was saddened and yet annoyed by him. Why are you even speaking, I’d think, shut up and hide in plain sight. Make yourself invisible. He never did.
When I read Reed’s Facebook page after learning he died, all the syrupy, “aww shucks” memories from people who treated him like crap, I was outraged. How dare they pretend to be his friend? How dare they lie and claim that they’d miss him, and write “Hey, do you remember when he did that?” I checked older posts where Reed would write about his newest job or latest accomplishment and there were congratulations from these same people. But there wasn’t any warmth to them. It seemed like the replies seemed rote.
And now they were saddened.
Reed was a brave man. I don’t mean because of his exemplary military record and medals he received, proudly displaying them in his Facebook posts. He was brave because he kept trying, unlike me who chose to hide. Either out of bravery or stupidity or whatever, he chose to keep trying to be a part of the world at large, to be visible. He had something in himself that was able to overcome the hurts and not be afraid to try again. My friend calls it “an undaunting courage.”
Meanwhile, I continued to hide in plain sight letting my fears keep me from taking chances and trying something new. So, I realize, thinking of James and Reed, the person I am really angry at is myself.
*Names have been changed.