Emmett stopped by my apartment briefly yesterday. He was swinging by to raid the fridge and to show me the new tattoo that he’d just gotten in honor of his fallen comrade, Nap. I hadn’t seen him since Nap’s memorial last week. He dropped in late afternoon and his visit was brief. Emmett comes and goes like that. Still, it was good to see his face and to see with my own eyes that he is doing OK.
Nap’s memorial was held in the Paccar Pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture Park here in Seattle. The large space was overflowing with friends, family and loved ones. Although I’m not particularly adept at estimating crowd sizes, I would guess that there were a few hundred people there. As the crowd filed in and got situated, Nap’s music played in the background. I would describe it as a sort of beats-oriented, ambient electronica. It was perfect in the modern room and, of course, for the bittersweet day. Nap’s family – his parents, sister and uncle – spoke at the brief gathering. I was struck by their grace and their eloquence. I was also touched by their stories about Nap. He was a challenging and bright person; determined to do things his own way and loved enormously by many.
The post-memorial reception was held at one of the brewpubs owned by Nap’s father. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder affair. People packed into the pub to lift their glasses to Nap and share remembrances. Nap’s tribe is Emmett’s tribe and I had the rare and precious opportunity that day to share face time with this beautiful posse of kids. I was awestruck by their giant hearts and big minds. I was also comforted by their fierce devotion to each other. As much as I worry about Emmett, I realized that afternoon that he is in good hands out in the world. He has a new family now and they have his back.
Although they are drifting in an ocean of sadness, Nap’s parents have been amazingly generous towards Emmett and the rest of Nap’s friends. They gave the boys full access to their son while he was in the hospital and then offered them their own special space to say good-bye when the time came. They’ve included them at every step along the way in this wrenching journey. Emmett and two others played music at the memorial and many of the gang gathered with Nap’s family after the reception. Whether it was their intention or not, I believe that by reaching out to his friends in the ways that they have, Nap’s parents have laid the foundation for these young men to heal. What an extraordinary depth of grace.
As I reflect back on the past few weeks, one thing seems certain: Nap had it figured out. So very many of us spend our lives struggling with careers, elusive goals, money issues and that all-too vague proposition of “success.” We often realize too late that the game isn’t about any of these things; the game is about connection and people and love. I believe that Nap knew that. As I watched this group of teenage boys gather around their friend, it was clear to me. Although in many ways Nap hadn’t fully made his mark in the world, he very much found the one thing that most people spend their whole lives looking for.
There was a brief period of time when I was a bit at odds with Nap. Although he and I didn’t have a lot of direct conflicts per se, I felt like he was a contributing factor in Emmett’s wayward bolt away from his family. During this time, I know I often greeted Nap with a raised eyebrow. But the truth of the matter is that Nap had nothing to do with it. Emmett was going to forge his way regardless of Nap or anyone else. Together, they were just doing what teenage boys do. Nap was a good friend to Emmett. He cared about my son. I wish I’d had the insight then to thank him for that.
In the weeks and months ahead, grief will have its way with us. It is a force of nature and we are helpless in the face of it. It will roll in and out and will take many shapes: anger, fear, restlessness and overwhelming anguish. It will pepper our minds with a thousand “if onlys” and “what ifs.” Some days will be abysmally slow. But along the way, there will be fissures of light poking through to guide us. And one day we will emerge again. The human ability to endure is profound.
Ultimately, we will all have to learn to reorganize our world after the soul wound of Nap’s untimely passing. It is not a matter of “getting over” but one of assimilation and change. This process will be indvidual for each of us. I know that my pain is different than that of Emmett’s or of Nap’s family, but the impact of this tragedy has been profound nonetheless. I am struggling. But I am also learning.
Moving forward, there is wisdom to be gleaned from Nap’s playbook:
Other people’s approval is not particularly important. Being true to yourself is.
Relationships & people are all that really matter. (I will ask myself daily, “What can I bring to my tribe?”)
And then there are the lessons that I am always learning:
Assume the best about people, especially Emmett.
Lead with love and everything else has a way of working out.
“Shut up, stupid.”
Donations in Nap’s memory can be made to Bikeworks: http://bikeworks.org/
To check out Nap’s music, please visit his Bandcamp page: http://napcantwell.bandcamp.com/