Ryan Gaddy. I first remember spotting him in the hallway after Mr. Forte’s math class in the 9th grade. He was walking with someone and half smiling as he listened. With stronger shoulders than the average freshman, and the beautiful, dark features I preferred, I instantly wanted to have at least 4 of his children. And this was before I heard the Kansas accent! High school being what it was though, and with my face erupting around a shiny new set of braces, it was hopeless.
In our sophomore year, I believe, his last name changed to Haden – which meant our alphabetical locker assignments placed us right next to each other for the last three years of school. I struggled through my social awkwardness to strike up painful conversations during the 30 seconds we saw each other between classes. Alas, my nervous, incoherent talking did not win his heart.
After graduation, I didn’t see him again. I heard he’d been in a bad accident shortly after, but I had moved out of state and never really knew what happened. Then, a few years ago we happened to reconnect online. He actually wanted to talk, so 13 years after graduation I found myself on the phone for the first time with my 9th grade crush.
Far separated from the trauma of high school and stripped of the old awkwardness, we actually enjoyed some nice conversations. Without divulging any personal information, I’ll just say he was really working on putting his life back together back in Kansas after a difficult time, but there were a lot of obstacles. Here and there I’d offer him some words of encouragement, and I really hoped for the best for him.
Then the news came this morning that Ryan had passed away, the day before his 34th birthday. As of right now, I’m not sure of the cause of death. Regardless, at 34 it’s a loss of life of which I can’t make sense. Coupled with the images from the recent earthquake/tsunami devastation in Japan, it’s a bit much for the soul.
There’s a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson that I often look at that simply says, “Take care of each other.” Each human life is valuable beyond measure, yet so vulnerable and easily lost. If you think of someone, call them. Send them an email. A text. Reach out. I’ve felt for a long time that when someone’s name pops into my head, that it’s God’s way of reminding me to contact them. Reaching out to Ryan a few years ago didn’t change today’s events, but it did give me a second chance to get to know someone. And for that, I’m grateful.
Rest in Peace, Ryan.