March is a hard month for me, and this year it proved no different. I recently found out that I have a degenerative disc in my back. This last bout has left me crawling out of my apartment and sobbing at the feet of my stepfather as I tried and failed multiple times to stand. It has left me curled in the fetal position in my father’s living room as my stepmother stepped over me to the kitchen, not stopping to ask if I needed help or if I was okay. It has left me hoping God would take me. And then something clicked. Every bit of pain I live through is a reminder of life: that I am alive, that I have survived. I am reminded how foolish I have been to try and will my life away because it has gotten difficult. I have forgotten that I promised to live seven years ago.
March 16th would have been Eric’s 24th birthday. No one could guess what kind of man he would have grown to be. But the boy he was lives in each of us who were lucky to have known him in his short seventeen years here. On that day, I renewed my promise to live. To not let myself miss out on opportunities because I am afraid or unhappy or unsure, but to do the things that scare me because he showed me the importance of life. I notice the little things now; the way the sun dances between the branches of a tree, the way music can touch the broken parts and begin the healing process, the way a smile is the most beautiful thing someone can wear. The way the color pink seems to be in abundance on the hardest days in March.
Eric gave me my life back at at time when I was ready to throw it away. Shortly before he died, I was molested by my then-boyfriend. My depression had reached its worst and I was looking for an exit plan. When he died, I knew I couldn’t. I saw the way his death effected his family and every life he had touched and I knew I had to live, if only so his sister wouldn’t have to experience that again. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to suffer through life, but that I could choose recovery. I’m still working on it. Depression is a hard thing. It’s not cured straightaway. It is a daily fight, but I won’t give up. I made a promise and I am a woman of my word.
I don’t want anyone to focus on the way Eric died; this is about remembering how he lived. Eric was loving and kind. He was animated. He gave the best hugs in the world. He was hilarious, intelligent, and sarcastic. He was a fantastic friend. He loved pink. Eric was an avid reader and a talented musician. He began playing piano at age four and studied at the Cleveland Music School Settlement with Tatiana Tolmacheva. He was also a giftted singer who participated in the Shore Line Singers throughout junior high and later in Mentor’s Top 25. One of my fondest memories with Eric was when his sister and I got him to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D with us.
Today isn’t about the cowards who taunted him at school. Though I do want to make one thing perfectly clear: bullies never win. And they take on many faces; sometimes they are peers, your family, the adults you entrust your children to, or the face you see in the mirror every day. It is our responsibility to stand up for ourselves and each other. Our responsibility to say, this is not acceptable anymore. No child should feel he has to take his own life because of a bully. Life is too precious a gift.
There were over one thousand people in attendance at Eric’s celebration of life ceremony. I contributed music to his service and as someone who personally struggles with performance anxiety, I can’t begin to tell you how nervous this made me until I saw his family. There weren’t words I could say to express how much my heart went out to them or how sad I was to lose a friend like him, but when I put my flute to my lips I let it speak for me. Music has that effect, doesn’t it? It speaks where words cannot.
If ever you doubt that you are loved or the reach you have, remember that. I doubt Eric knew so many people cared about him. And I doubt you know how many people love you, too. Some love silently. I say, share your love with each other. Find tiny ways to tell the people you love that you love them. We forget the impact we have on the lives around us.
Losing Eric taught me one great lesson: life is a gift. We choose what our lives can become. Today I choose light. I choose hope. I choose to remember a boy who we lost too soon, but who lives inside each of us even now. Eric’s light was not extinguished with his death and it will never go out so long as each of us who knew him choose to spread that light with the lives we touch. So today I say, let’s forget the dark and share our light. Let’s love without limitations, let’s hug the people who need hugged, let’s be brave, let’s live vibrantly. Today let’s wear something pink and remember the boy who lived.
I like the idea of heaven that was depicted in The Lovely Bones: a heaven unique in design to grant its inhabitant peace. Eric’s heaven would be filled with Ramen and video games and books as far as the eye could see. I like to imagine that he’s up there somewhere, shoving noodles in his face and painting the clouds in the sky pink to signal to us that he’s at peace now.
The afternoon Eric died, as I drove back from work to the music school, I caught glimpse of the pink clouds and for a second, my heart was calm. I took that as a sign that he was finally at peace. Each time that I have been lucky to catch the sky painted pink, I am reminded of him.
March 29th marks the seven year anniversary of losing Eric. On that day I would like to invite you to pay respect to the boy who lived and taught numerous people in his community to love with less limitations by wearing something pink and offering free hugs. Eric loved the color pink, perhaps because he dared to be different or perhaps because it was (and I’d bet still is) his sister’s favorite color. And hugs, well, there’s never been another person with hugs as great as his, but we can try, right? I’ll see you out there and my arms will be open to any who needs a hug.