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Yesterday I deleted over 400 people from a group created to remember my friend, Steven. It has been 6 months since he left this world. And at the request of the family, I deleted his Remembrance group on Facebook. It is time to let him rest; it is time to let him go. But it is a weird sensation, clicking delete on all of those faces. I am like God severing a cord tied to a relationship that can never be reconnected. All those people who loved him, all those people who, too, are trying to let him go, let him rest.
I’m not one for anniversaries or markers in relationships. But this anniversary is strange. It was 4 years ago I met Steven on the streets of Plieningen. His family and our family were both new arrivals. He was pushing a double stroller with only one child in it. His wife Mai smiled, introduced herself while chuckling, and shook my hand. Then Steven greeted me with what would soon become our name for him, “Hey Baby!” Steven was desperately looking for bottled water with no bubbles. And if you have lived very long in Germany, and you are not one who likes the Sprudel, you know this is a tough assignment. In this brief moment, I knew we would be fast friends. His sense of humor in the midst of the pain of searching for Stilles Wasser could have been an award-winning comedy sketch.
Over the years that I worked with him, he always greeted me with a “Hey Baby!” and then stopped with hand over his mouth, telling me some ridiculous story about what had just happened to him. Sometimes it was an incident in his classroom. “That’s right! When I told him he needed to get out there and dance with his partner, he had a melt down. He flipped on his back like a beetle, beat the floor, and started screaming, “NO WAY!! I’m not dancing!” Sometimes it was an incident on the streets of our small village. “I couldn’t believe it! The old lady tripped and fell flat on her face in the middle of the cross walk. No one stopped to pick her up? I did. What is wrong with these people!”
He was so happy to be in Germany. And his trips with family or school took him to places he had previously only dreamed about. I hear the first time he saw a double-decked bus was quite an experience for all those who witnessed his glee. His first bout with cancer had left him nearly bankrupt, public school teaching wasn’t able to pay the bills, so he and his family came overseas. And lucky for them they did. After years of being cancer free it came back. The health care in Germany is exceptional and our state insurance covers everything. No longer did he have to wonder if he would lose his house, his car, his security, because he was sick.
This time last year I met him in the parking lot outside of school. I was going in for our second teacher work-day, he was dropping off Mai and kids. Things were out of control at school. We were moving classrooms and dealing with a building that was still under construction. I had found out I had been given a schedule wracked with mistakes and I would just have suffer through it for an entire year. “Next year, Kathleen, we promise it will be better.” All I could think of was “How am I going to make it through this year.”
So there was Steven sitting is his brother-be-cool white Mercedes. He got out and gave me a hug. We chatted and laughed about this and that. We hugged goodbye and he wished me a good start to the year. “I’ll be back at school after Christmas, I promise!” And as I walked the rest of the way into school, I bawled my eyes out. He was dying of cancer, he wouldn’t be back after Christmas. All he wanted was to be with his students, all he wanted was his health. What did I have to complain about?
In a few short days I will be starting school. I can’t help but reminisce about what those first days in Stuttgart were like and compare them to where I am now. I can’t help remembering Orientation when Steven and Mai introduced themselves. “This is like having a second Honeymoon!” When I am out on the trail running, I can’t blot out his voice. He is always there, coaching me when I start to feel pain, telling me to suck it up and keep going. And when I am finished, he tells me he’s proud of me.
When Steven was at his worst, he was at his best. In his suffering, he wrote to so many of us to tell us how proud he was to call us friend. So yesterday, when I looked across all those faces, “Are you sure you want to delete…,” he is so rich in friends. And even though he has passed from this life, his relationships with us will never be deleted.
When I walk to school on Tuesday, I know I won’t see you, but you will be with me Steven. May your legacy of love, and love for life, live in all of us who were lucky enough to know you.