After I pulled poems together with a central focus last week, I reminded myself to print some notes I’d written to keep myself centered, as well as a conversation I had with some fellow poets on social media last year that I cut and pasted into a Word document for future reference. I printed these documents then read through them, and noticed as part of the conversation the name of a friend who passed away suddenly last year. It was a bittersweet reminder: this poet was a part of my writing life. We always made sure to connect at AWP if we were both attending, and kept up with each other on social media. Like me, she lived in the Midwest. Snowstorms would often reach her state before they reached mine, so I knew what was coming if she mentioned it on Facebook. She was someone I not only respected but admired, and her passing was and still is a loss.
She was one of three friends I lost last year who were fellow writers or professors. No matter what their calling, they were people who taught me how to live a good life not only intellectually but spiritually. When I started publishing, they encouraged me, and I not only read their work but watched how they navigated the world as writers, hoping to learn something I might have missed. My fellow teaching colleague who left this world last year had an office right down the hall from mine. A lifelong learner, his office and home were filled with books. If he knew someone was interested in a certain subject, whether they were a child or adult, he give them books to aid in their discovery. He often surprised me with books that I still hold dear; some I use in classrooms. These friends became part of my life, some my daily life, and taught me how to be steadfast and patient, while remaining curious about the world.
What happens when we lose friends who’ve helped us grow? It’s difficult to lose people you love to talk to and hear from, and who inspire you. It seems most difficult to learn how to live without them. I’m still learning. But I’d like to be for others who those friends were for me: an unintentional guide through this life. These friends didn’t set out to inspire me, but by being themselves and through their kindness, they taught me more than they realized.