Last Sunday, July 20th, the topic of Atlanta’s monthly Sunday Assembly was “death”. The leadership insisted this did not mean the entire evening would be a depressing slog, and they were right. The personal stories, music, and themes emphasized an embracing of the finality of life as both a motivator for personal growth and the basis for so much meaning to our existence.
Two people shared stories on the theme of death: one man was in a severe car wreck that made him pivot on the course of his life to a better place. Another women shared her experience and change with the loss of her son. While these accounts were rooted in a tragic loss of life, it was the response to those moments that held the lessons and significance for those of us still here, to give us a glimpse and chance at appreciating what we have now.
I’m Ross Llewallyn. What follows is a post I wrote for my website, Enduring Beta, in September of 2013 that touches on similar themes to our last meeting. The Sunday Assembly folks thought it would be good to share…
An acquaintance of mine from high school had a birthday yesterday. This day, alongside one other particular day, I’m usually reminded of the big impact he had during my senior year.
I didn’t know him that well. He was one of those people I knew about but not personally. The one thing I did remember most vividly is sitting in front of him in my Spanish literature class. He enjoyed using his phone to play an annoying, high-pitched noise during class that our teacher couldn’t hear. We hated him for that stupid, screeching sound… when we weren’t snickering quietly at the genuinely funny situation.
But in April of 2007, he was in a car crash. And he was gone.
I didn’t take it extremely hard. I didn’t dive into the details or have a deep personal connection with him. Others around me were more visibly shaken in our former class together. After some quiet moments that first day back, we simply used the class time to be around each other. I remember finding it appropriate to play a card game with those around me on his desk. Later someone told me she found that meaningful. I’m glad.
It feels cathartic to think back to then. I never really processed it, I don’t think. But when I saw his mom change her profile picture on Facebook to one of his photos, something hit me. It helped that I’d been thinking about replacing my old profile picture, which was taken the same year: 2007. For the first time I felt a distance from high school.
He still looks 18.
I don’t anymore.
He was just like me once.
I just got to keep going.
I wrote something back then that several friends appreciated, expressing my thoughts on the matter. His mom sent me a message that I reread today. He wanted to be “a physicist and a stand up comic”, she said. Never have a felt closer to who he was than through hearing that.
I’m in one of those moments, those mental states, where you’re able to so clearly realize the fortunate state you’re in. To be alive, to be able to build relationships and create and enjoy everything this universe has to offer. To not take any of these basic, fundamental joys for granted and recognize how wonderful they are to be able to have.
Yet it’s something that quickly fades. We get lost in the minutia of finding that matching sock, having petty conflicts, or being stuck in traffic. Maybe it’s impossible or impractical to feel this all the time. But I’ve let too much of my life fall into that pointless category so far. I’m working to embrace living a bit more as time goes on.
I hope this post can capture a glimpse of this fleeting perspective and maybe give Phillip a bit of the recognition he deserves. Who he was and what he represents to me I will carry for a long time to come.
One thing I do remember was that he was a music fan of specific tastes. And now I’ll never hear Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” in quite the same way again. There are many flavors of interpretations, but I’ll be thinking about the passage of time, getting by, and the pleasure of that experience.