Monday, January 07, 2008

in memory of Jeff Nagel

I don't even know where to begin... When I first started this blog in January 2006 I began by saying I was not sure what had possessed me to start blogging, but that it had absolutely nothing to do with New Year's resolutions. On January 06, 2007 I wrote that I still didn't believe in New Year's resolutions, but that instead I had plans.

My plans for 2007 consisted of the following:

do more yoga (check)
fewer drunk evenings (check-- virtually non-existent)
submit writing for publication (still lame on this count)
make an effort to be more aware (check)
let go of what is unnecessary (check, mostly)
look upon myself and others with more kindness (check)
look up more, on clear nights especially (check!)
knit more than I cry (check)
make more art and new friends (check)
more calls and visits to old friends and once good ideas (check)
have less to do with things that don't make my heart sing (check)
retrieve beach stick from old car (check)

Not a bad year. A difficult one, to be sure. Coming out of 2006 and into 2007 was far from perfect, with many painful steps along the way. This post certainly gives a sense of what I was feeling. But I had my family, I had friends to support me and help me get through it all. I had a friend who liked to adopt phony personas for the internet who even wrote me a message after reading that post. He said, "Hey! Keep thinking of the good things you DO have, and don't be too reckless, because wherever you go, you'll never be far away...from someone who is always going to love's inescapable." By the end of 2007, I was feeling very much that 2008 was going to be a banner year, that work and changes which had been quietly underway would finally manifest openly. 2008 was supposed to be good.

And, at first, it was. I had a lovely NYE with Riley (low-key, yoga, minimal champagne) and I began the new year feeling pretty optimistic. Then I received a devastating phone call while standing in the aisles of Powell's. The sister of my friend who had written the above message called to tell me that her brother, my friend of seventeen years, had suffered an aneurysm and was in the hospital with a hemorrhage in his brain. My mind would not let me make sense of it. "Is he all right?" I asked, not thinking that if she was calling me then probably he was not.

I had just returned from my holiday in California with my family. He was lying in a hospital bed hundreds of miles away from me. I felt helpless. But, with the gracious support of my mother, I hopped on a plane the next day and went back to California. I was not prepared for what I saw. Here was a man I had met when we were teenagers. We had fallen in love. We had broken each other's hearts. We had forgiven and discussed and moved forward into our lives which were being led in two separate states, but we had never forgotten each other, nor the love we had shared. Neither of us was in a position to truly speculate on whether we would in fact have a romantic future together, but we did spend the past few years rekindling our friendship and that love in the ways we could, given the circumstances of our lives.

I will not speak of everything that we said. He was a very private person. But I will say that we did, finally, say everything that had needed saying, everything that had not been said before, and had laid the foundation for a beautiful friendship which we both had expressed excitement about having the rest of our lives to deepen and explore. Jeff Nagel passed away at the Good Samaritan Hospital on Friday, January 4, 2008 at the age of 36. He was taken off life support January 6th. I had told him I would always love him, and I will. I am still somewhat in shock, despite having spent his final days at his bedside with his wonderful, strong, and inspiring family and friends.

Jeff had always been so strong, so healthy, and so talented. He mastered gymnastics, bmx racing, guitar playing, woodworking, world class rifle shooting, and most recently, gourmet cooking and the ecosystems he had magically cultivated in the micro gardens of his backyard. He did more in his 36 years than many of us will do in twice that lifetime, and he did it humbly, respectfully, passionately, and always, always, always with a smile, if not on his face, then in his heart. It was not supposed to end this way.

His sister Jolie put together a wonderful website to honor Jeff's memory. I know he is in the hearts and minds of everyone whose lives he touched. I know he is loved and missed and will always be remembered. I know he knew how I felt and that we were lucky enough to have said all that we needed to say while there was still time to say it. But I am heartbroken and can't quite believe he is gone. I have never been religious. I take no comfort in the idea of god. But nor do I think of death as a window into a vast nothingness. I am a believer in life and in appreciating what joy and pleasure we can experience and share while we have such life. I am a believer in walking through the world with an open heart.

Jeff approached the world this way. He was fierce, and loyal, and strong. He was kind, and gentle, and devastatingly beautiful inside and out. He was a dear friend for literally half my life. He has passed from this world and into whatever great mystery lies beyond. I like to think that he just got too curious, that the insatiability of his interest and passion for all manner of things simply got the better of him and he moved into a place the rest of us aren't ready for yet.

My plans for 2008 are simple: to live in a way that will honor his memory. I miss him and love him with a fierceness I know he would appreciate and honoring him is the only thing left that I can do for him. And with that, I'd like to share a poem that many of you may already be familiar with, but that truly reminds me of Jeff. It is called Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Be at peace my beautiful friend.