“Letting their freak flags fly.”
I’m not sure why, of all the words she spoke to me, that is the phrase that comes back, the echo that rises in quiet moments. I can’t remember what exactly she was referring to, but I remember how she said it, not with judgement, but a smile, with the twinkle which was so characteristic of her.
Laurie was a proponent of letting your freak flag fly. She was a supporter of the weird, the odd and dysfunctional. She had a way of accepting people as they were, something I always admired about her. “He’s a weirdo, but he’s a nice weirdo,” she once told me of a coworker I was trouble working with. It took me a while, but eventually I saw it. She was, of course, right. I went from dreading any contact with the man, to looking forward to working with him.
Would I have come to the realization without her? I wonder now at all the things I might not have realized without her. I am a different person today than I would have been without her. That is, I suppose, what it means to be a mentor. Changing someone for the better, helping them grow. Without Laurie, I would not be the person I am today.
I wonder too, what she might have taught me had she not, three years ago today, closed her eyes forever. I wonder what my life would have been like if she had never gotten sick. If she had been there through those turbulent years while our nonprofit was swallowed by the government, went from Association to Department. Where would I be now? Who would I be now?
I know these are all self-centered musings. I know these are all questions of my life, when it was her life that ended, but death makes so clear the ways in which our lives our connected. Many of the ties that bind us are subtle. We don’t notice them until they are cut loose. When she was gone, I suddenly felt all the ways in which I depended on her. For guidance, for direction. She was someone I could trust to help me see the world as it was. More than that, she was someone who could stare at the darkest truths and still be able to smile. Who looked at our broken justice system and saw, not a hopeless mess, but a challenge to be met. A battle to be fought.
Laurie taught me a way of seeing. A way of looking at the world, at people, and at problems. Laurie gave me new eyes. And while I will never see her again, the people we lose never really leave us. Every time I wish I could ask her advice and every time I wonder at what she might have to told me, she lives on in me.
She is still with me, changing the way I see the world, giving me new eyes and reminding me to open them.