One of the weirdest things about this wired world we find ourselves in is that thanks to connections through blogs, discussion boards and Facebooks, you can find yourself mourning the loss of someone you’ve never met in real life.
I’ve mentioned before, I think, that I end up reading a very diverse array of blogs, often because of fictional characters I’m writing about. I don’t read people’s blogs to get ideas, as much as to test the character’s voice in my head against the voices of real-life people in similar situations, to ask, “Would a person like this really think/say that?”
I told you awhile ago that one of my odder research journeys had led me to reading weight loss blogs written by morbidly obese young men, and when I posted about that before I shared a link to the blog of a guy called FLG (Kepa) who had an amazing success story to share (with a romantic twist for good measure!).
Success stories like Kepa’s are heartwarming and inspiring. Not everyone’s story ends that way.
One of the most interesting blogs I found was called Stages of Change, from a young man in his late 20s who (I’ve just learned) was named Garrett. His writing was thoughtful and perceptive, though his blog was sporadic — he wrote a lot at times when he was doing well dealing with weight loss and other issues, and then would be absent from the blog for months at a time. From what he shared about his life, it was clear that he had a lot of things to deal with — not just weighing over 600 lbs; he also wrote about coping with drinking and maybe depression too. I had a brief email exchange with him (I like to let people know if I’m creepily stalking them for research purposes) and enjoyed reading his blog whenever he updated it. Then last night, through the comments section on his last post, I learned that he died at the end of August.
Even though I knew Garrett only through his blog, the thought that he had passed away made me sad. Reflecting on these odd blog connections, I remembered another blog I used to read when I was wandering down another research path, reading the blogs of recovering alcoholics. I enjoyed the sometimes inspiring, sometimes frustrating blog of a quirky Englishman called Henry the Thirst (real name David, but I could never think of him as anything but Henry). He obviously had a ton of struggles in his life along with his various attempts to stay sober: he had diabetes and also, I think, some mental health issues. But he was funny and had an odd way of looking at the world and a great relish for the things he loved: geocaching, friends, canal boats. I hadn’t read his blog for a long time and since I was thinking of him last night I clicked over there only to find out that he, too, passed away this summer.
I don’t know much about these men’s lives and deaths; I don’t even know whether their deaths were directly related to the health problems and addictions they struggled with (they could have been hit by buses for all I know). But I know they were fighters who experienced both success and failure in their lives, and who died without being able to report a heartwarming “success story.”
Trying to have a better, healthier, more whole life — something we all strive for — is hard work. Even with the grace of God, it’s still hard, because old habits and addictions and patterns have such a hold on us. Today I’m going back to work for a new school year; tomorrow I’ll see my students from last year again, and meet some new ones. I’m always in awe of their courage, not just in coming back to finish school but in trying to face down the demons in their lives that kept them from finishing in the first place — and some of those are pretty fearsome demons.
Most people don’t have tidy, impressive success stories. Most of us fail and fall and, with luck and grace and some help from friends, get up and try again. Occasionally, people fall and don’t get up, but it doesn’t invalidate the effort and courage they put into the struggle.
This school year, I will see people struggle, and I will see them fail as well as succeed. I’ll have struggles, failures, and successes myself. I’ll pray for and love and try to uplift people who are struggling. It won’t be easy. It never is.
Because my life has always been lived by the academic year, Tuesday after Labour Day is my New Year’s Day. Today, at the threshhold of a new year, I’m thinking of Garrett and Henry, and also of Andrew, Allan and Stephen, three of my students from past years whose stories ended too soon. I’m thinking of the students I’ll see tomorrow, and of friends who are fighting their own battles. I wish for all of them, and you if you’re struggling too, courage, grace and a little help along the way.