The fading and disappearance of Aurora

I miss Aurora.

This is not the post I wanted to write today. The Bilderberg Meeting was held in Switzerland a few weeks ago, and they discussed several interesting topics that I want to address. There are also some theological issues upon which I wish to comment. And I can share some childhood memories of summer days and activities. My writing has been lagging lately—maybe it’s the summer doldrums—I cannot even motivate myself to complete the first draft of my book about Revelation—I still have two chapters to cover before I’m done.

But last night, lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come, the feeling washed over me like a wave. And when I woke this morning, the same feeling was still with me.

I really miss Aurora.

I don’t know her real name, and she doesn’t know mine. We met as WordPress bloggers; we followed each other and liked each other’s posts and commented on each other’s blogs. Ostensibly, her blog was about “adventures in singleness and misadventures in dating,” but she also wrote about Christian faith, her church, her family and friends, and her job. She was dissatisfied with the later, and in the last year of her blogging she described leaving that job and setting out on a whole new career.

Our attraction was not romantic. Aside from a significant difference in age, there are other important barriers that would not have allowed any romantic attachment. I felt no jealousy as she wrote about the men she met and dated. In fact, I took on a brotherly interest and concern over some of her “misadventures.” She began blogging when her fiancé canceled their wedding after most of the plans had been made; she endured a mental health crisis, and blogging was part of her journey back to health. Along the way she encountered some men who were kind and supportive and others who were not. From August 2014 to October 2017, her online presence was meaningful to me—sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy, but always interesting and inspirational.

Because our minds ran in similar fashions, we connected online. She noticed and appreciated the quips and subtleties in my posts that apparently went past most readers. She expressed awareness of the ironies of life and of the elegant awkwardness of the English language. We didn’t agree on everything—what two people always agree?—but we saw many things the same way, and we understood each other most of the time.

I’m not the only person to regret her disappearance. Bitter Ben commented months ago about those blogging friends who suddenly disappear. It’s part of life: people move on to new things. They develop other interests and they stop blogging. Social media is not the most important thing in their lives, nor should it be. But when people like Aurora disappear, it leaves a hole, and sometimes that hole cannot be filled.

I understand. Her last post was about the Friday morning that her boyfriend came to her apartment and cooked her breakfast. He left a poem and a note for her. The post was tagged “engagement” and “marriage.” I get it. Her singleness, and her misadventures in dating, were over. But I wish there could have been more of a farewell. More than that, I wish that she had directed her readers to a new blog where we could stay in touch, keep up with her changing life, and continue to share concern and support for one another.

Aurora and I agreed that, in the new creation, there will be a place where Christian WordPress bloggers will gather to meet one another face to face, to remember the fun times we had together online, and to enjoy one another’s company as we experience the ongoing, eternal celebration of the Lord’s victory over all evil. I look forward to seeing her on that Day. Meanwhile, I hope and pray that things are going well for her in her relationship, in her career, in her faith, and in her life.

Dear Aurora, I know you’re out there somewhere. God’s blessings to you in all that you are doing. And if there is some way we can reconnect, just to be online friends and mutual support, please let me know. J.

What about it, readers? What would you like to see next from Salvageable? Are you interested in world politics and the topics discussed at the Bilderberg meeting? Would you prefer theological topics—perhaps some insights gained while writing about the book of Revelation? Or are you most curious about his childhood experiences of summertime and those memories? Let me know!

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Dealing kindly with toxic personalities

He was gloomy and gruff, but no one ever told him to “cheer up.” He was pessimistic about everything and had a negative outlook on life, but no one ever told him to change his way of thinking. He spent his days in an emotional cloud of depression and despair, but his friends were kind and supportive, never treating him as a toxic person, never complaining that he drained all the life out of their party.

His name was Eeyore. He lived in the Hundred Acre Wood, a neighbor to Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, Owl, Tigger, Kanga and Roo, and—of course—Christopher Robin. Each of them had his or her own quirks, a unique personality that had failings as well as higher qualities. In fact, you can search the Internet and find pages that diagnose each character in the stories with a different psychological disorder. A. A. Milne was not writing a textbook about disorders, though; Milne was experimenting with various personality types to show how they function within a caring and compassionate community.

In a society that preaches tolerance for a number of aberrations, it seems that some personality types are still less acceptable than others. Introverts are expected to act like extraverts. People battling anxiety and depression are told that “its all in your head,” and they are expected to act as if everything is fine. They are told to have more faith in God, as if faithful believers (including Job and Elijah) were never depressed. They are told that God’s blessings bring joy and peace, that if they are lacking the feelings of joy and peace there is something wrong in their relationship with God. (That’s exactly what Job’s friends said to him, but God said they were wrong.) They are told to take it to the Lord in prayer, with the suggestion that if that does not lift their gloomy cloud, there must be something wrong with their prayers.

This month I re-read the books Milne wrote about the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood. I found it interesting to observe how his friends treated Eeyore. When he was moping because his tail was missing, Winnie the Pooh took it upon himself to hunt until he found Eeyore’s tail. When Eeyore was grumpy because it was his birthday and no one had noticed, Pooh and Piglet found gifts to celebrate the occasion. Even though the gifts fell short of their intentions—Pooh emptied the honey pot on his way to Eeyore’s house, and Piglet popped the balloon—still, the gifts meant a great deal to Eeyore.

The closest anyone approached trying to correct Eeyore’s attitude was the time that Eeyore complained that he had few visitors, and Owl pointed out that Eeyore could be a visitor in other people’s houses rather than waiting at home for a visitor to arrive. That’s helpful advice and rather mild criticism for a character that would be described in many families, workplaces, and gatherings as a toxic personality, always complaining, never happy, and taxing the happiness of others.

Pooh may have been a Bear of Very Little Brain, but the size of his heart more than compensated for his lack of a brain. Somehow he knew how to treat Eeyore and the rest of his neighbors—never with complaining or criticism, but always with acceptance, helpfulness, and good cheer. Good friends are a blessing from the Lord. Pooh sensed without thinking it through that the best way to have friends was to be a friend, even to negative and gloomy neighbors. J.

Addiction and the Internet

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sometimes posts information in bars, knowing that the people who need their help are likely to be found there. But would you send a possible alcoholic into a bar to pick up information on AA?

Monday I came to work and opened my email. Being the first workday of the month, there was an email from Human Resources about health and wellness. The topic of the month is Internet addiction. The email included a link to read more information about Internet addiction, and that link led, of course, to the Internet.

So what about it, my WordPress friends? How many of us could be described as Internet addicts? Do we think about the Internet all the time, even when we are not using it? Do we resent things like work and meals and sleep because they require time away from the Internet? Has our use of the Internet caused damage to our relationships, our careers, or other important aspects of our personal lives?

I generally frame WordPress posts or responses to posts while I am off the Internet, whether driving or showering or mowing. That is less an indication of Internet addiction than it is a writer’s standard procedure for creating effective writing.

If I am addicted to any sites on the Internet, I am addicted to Sudoku and Nonograms. But that is more an addiction to games than to the Internet per se. If I had a hand-held version of either game, or a paper version, I would play just as intensely as I do on the Internet.

I cannot think of any way that the Internet has damaged my personal relationships. I might check WordPress or Facebook while at work, or sneak in a quick game. But when one logs onto Facebook and sees that one’s supervisor is posting while at work, it hardly seems worth worrying about getting caught.

If anything, I have gained important relationships through the Internet. Not through Facebook—I got a Facebook account mostly to spy on my children, and I have never approved a friend on Facebook whom I do not already know. My WordPress community, on the other hand, has become very important to me. I value my online friends and their ideas and interests as much as I value those of people I know in person. Moreover, I take attacks upon my WordPress friends as personally as I take attacks on people I know in person.

Gains and losses both come from making friends over the Internet. Some people pretend online to be someone they are not. At the same time, communities form sheltered existences where people can reinforce one another’s opinions and viewpoints, no matter how peculiar and uninformed those opinions and viewpoints might be. Trolls roam the Internet, looking for victims to verbally abuse. Internet addiction is real, and it can damage lives and relationships. This Wednesday I walked into a room and saw five members of my family sitting, each using a device, not interacting with one another at all—and this included family members who had traveled from other states to spend special holiday time with their family.

This summer, for several reasons, I have had less time to spend on WordPress and other social media. I am copy-editing a book for a publishing company and putting together another book of my own writing for publication through CreateSpace. At work I am filling in for other people who have taken vacations. I am also playing nonograms a lot more than I should. As a result, I missed some of the news that some of you have shared in the past couple weeks, catching up days later. I sincerely hope I have offended no one by my lack of response to their posts.

But what of it, my Internet friends? Are you concerned about Internet addiction and its effects on your life? Or do you feel safe and secure in your use of the Internet? J.

Kathy

Last night being the first of several at my sister’s house for a late Christmas celebration, I slept lightly, and I remembered all of my dreams in the morning. Most of them included the theme of bringing order out of chaos, needing to clean up a large area filled with trash. Sometimes the mess was at work, sometimes at home. Invariably I was aware that a few valuable items were scattered within the trash, and I feared that they would be lost. Most of the other workers in the various dreams seemed content, though, to stand around and converse aimlessly with one another rather than getting involved in the work.

Oddly enough, Kathy appeared in two of those dreams. Kathy and I attended the same elementary school and junior high school, in which we were in the same homeroom. We also attended the same high school, but followed different paths which rarely crossed. She was one of the popular girls—cheerleader, athlete, pep club, and student government. I was involved in the band and orchestra, the school newspaper, and the spring musicals. Kathy was one of the truly attractive girls in junior high and senior high school. She was lovely in appearance, but not vain, gentle in manner, kind without being condescending. She was one of a trio of girls who always sat together at the beginning of the school year, when the teacher organized the desks in alphabetic order. Later in the school year, when the teacher allowed us to choose our own desks, the three friends remained together. Only if the teacher tried to rearrange the seating to split apart friends (for better order in the classroom, or so they said) did those three become scattered; and of course many opportunities arose during the course of the day for them to reconnect—to eat lunch together, or exercise together in Physical Education, or visit in the hallways between classes.

In one of last night’s dreams, Kathy was sitting at a table when I walked past. She stood, hugged me, kissed me on the mouth, smiled and said something friendly that I can no longer remember, and then sat again. I can assure you that in all our years of school together, she never did such a thing to me—not even once.

In the later dream, she and I both knew that it was Tuesday and that the lunch that was to be served on Tuesday was particularly repulsive. I knew of a couple of good restaurants across the street from where we were cleaning, and I wanted to invite her to join me for lunch. To the end of the dream, though, I failed to work up the courage to approach her with my invitation.

This morning, with Kathy still at the edges of my memory, I typed into Google® her name and our hometown. I learned that she had graduated college, gotten married, worked as a nurse, and had two sons. She was respected and well-liked by her coworkers and the patients she served. However, Kathy died almost one year ago. The comments that followed her obituary glowed with praise for her life of service and her kind and helpful personality.

I cannot guess what brought Kathy’s image into my dreams last night. Of all my classmates from those early days of school, she is scarcely the most memorable. We never became friends, as we truly had few common interests. Of all the dreams in all the unfamiliar bedrooms in all my travels over the years, why did she have to come into mine last night? J.

 

Heavy hearted

The administration where I work discourages us from visiting Facebook while at work. Their biggest concern is not that we spend every minute while on the clock with our noses to the grindstone; their biggest concern is reserving enough bandwidth space for our patrons and our workers. Most of us cheat on this policy at least a little. I’m not going to worry about getting caught visiting Facebook briefly when I log in and see that my boss is also shown online.

Today was a bad day to glance at Facebook. One of the first posts I saw was from a close family member. Her post was personal and thoughtful, reminding me of the struggles she has been facing and the courage with which she has done so.

Right under that was a post saying that one of my friends from college has died.

I feel guilty not keeping in touch with this friend. Over the past few months he has been battling cancer, and he used Facebook to report his treatment and progress to all his friends. I regret that I never once responded with encouraging words. In fact, often I would skim his updates and then move on to someone else. (Can you spell TMI?) When I got home from work this afternoon, one of my first projects was to write a letter to his wife (also a friend from college) expressing my condolences and offering my prayers. I know this sounds odd, but I feel as though a mailed letter might atone for my lack of communication with them on Facebook.

When I first opened a Facebook account, my main reason to do so was to keep track of my children’s lives. Over time high school friends and college friends began emerging, and it was nice to be in touch. I’ve never been one to share much on Facebook, though—I’m more of a lurker, keeping tabs on other people in my life without reminding them too often of my existence.

The Big Chill was released when my friends and I were in college. We all saw the movie and speculated about the future of our friendships. Some of us were able to return to campus for Homecoming Weekend in the first years after graduation. I remember in particular one uproarious evening in a restaurant when most of the group was there. Over time, though, jobs and families made it harder for the group to assemble. If not for Facebook, by now most of us would be strangers to each other, with a few still making the effort to update one another with a letter at Christmas.

I won’t be able to make it to his funeral. I expect that most of the rest of our college group will also be missing. I feel bad about that absence, but it can’t be helped. Along with memories of past good times, I am also making sure to appreciate the people in my life today—especially the one who almost didn’t make it this far. J.

My best friend’s rotten wife

I have a very good friend, the best friend I could ever have. I like him very much; in fact, I owe everything I have to him. I want to spend more time with him, but I’ve got a problem. I don’t get along with his wife.

My friend is great, but sometimes I cannot stand his wife. My friend tells me, though, that I have to take them as a team. If I want to be with him, I also have to be with her. I know that my friend likes me, but I’m not sure about his wife. Sometimes she ignores me, and sometimes she is even mean to me. She has many moods—she can be angry and accusing, she can be dry and boring, and she can be sappy and sentimental. Sometimes she tries to dress up and look awesomely beautiful and impressive, but other times it does not seem as though she cares how she appears.

If I give a gift to my friend, I know he is going to share it with his wife. He cannot seem to stop himself. His wife is the one who reminds me how much I owe my friend. She is always prepared to take the money I give to my friend and spend it on herself. In fact, I think she’s using him. He does not go a moment of any day without loving her, but sometimes she seems to forget that he even exists.

I’d like to spend time with my friend when his wife is not around, but he won’t let that happen. Whenever the two of us are together, she has to be there too. My friend expects me to accept her, even with all her faults, if I want to be with him.

My friend is Jesus of Nazareth, and his bride is the Holy Christian Church. I love Jesus, but I don’t always love the Church. Jesus is sinless and perfect, but the Church is filled with sinners. Jesus loves me and gave himself for me, but I don’t always feel loved when I am with the Church. If I could have Jesus as my friend without the Church, I think that would make me happy, but Jesus does not give me that option. He loves the Church, and he expects me to be with her if I want to be with him.

Jesus is not blind to the faults of his Church. Yet he loves the Church and willingly serves the Church. More than that, he forgives the Church and forgives every sinner in the Church. Sometimes I struggle to understand his love and his forgiveness, but they should make me happy. After all, if Jesus can love the Church and forgive it, in spite of all its flaws and imperfections, then I know that he loves me and forgives me too.

J.  (first published May 10, 2015)

Guest post: an open letter to Carl

I have not invited guest writers to post on the Salvageable blog hitherto. However, a fellow blogger appealed to me so convincingly that “certain things need to be said,” that I am allowing this one-time guest-posting. As a Grammar Dalek, I could not resist correcting some of the writer’s grammar, punctuation, and spelling. However, the thoughts expressed below are those of the guest writer. J.

An open letter to “Carl,” whoever he may be.

My dear brother,

You are in enormous danger, a greater danger than you realize. Not only your happiness is at stake. You could lose your health to a rightfully jealous husband. You could lose your job because of a just supervisor. Worst of all, you are threatening your relationship with the Lord and his gift of eternal life because of your thoughtlessness.

Consider the words of Scripture. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). ”Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). “Keep the marriage bed pure” (Hebrews 13:4). “Whatsoever things are pure… whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). ”Avoid even the appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).

You may well say to me that you are looking at Number Seven with eyes of friendship and not of lust. Yet you cannot deny that you are approaching her, not to serve her as a neighbor, but to enhance your own good feelings inside your heart. In that, you are using a woman—another man’s wife, for that matter—for your own selfish purposes, and that is sin. It borders upon abuse, no matter whether or not she knows what you are doing.

Your co-worker and friend warned you to be careful, suggesting that you might be hurt as you were hurt before. I would respect Esther more if she told you to be careful not to hurt Number Seven, not even to allow any suspicion to fall upon her. If you truly loved her as Christians should love one another, you would be cautious not to bring any sort of trouble upon her.

I know that, in your imagined conversation with Number Seven, you said that you would never allow anyone to harm her, not even yourself. Noble words, my friend, but said in the way you said them, they went against your stated purposes. I know you prayed to God to guide you away from temptation. A godly prayer, my friend, but those are mere words, and your actions are speaking louder than your words.

By all means be a friend to Number Seven. But equally be a friend to the other five workers in your office. By all means, visit with her. But visit just as much with your other coworkers, as much as your jobs permit. When you allow Number Seven to be more special to you than the other people in the office, you flirt with danger. When time spent with Number Seven makes you feel good for the rest of the day, watch out! You are deliberately walking along the edge of temptation, and few who follow that path fail to fall into sin. If you believe that your affection for her is making you a better person—calmer while driving in bad traffic, I believe you said somewhere—please be aware that evil has a tendency to take one danger away from us for the very purpose of leading us into a greater danger.

One final thought, and this concerns your lingering memories of “Rosa.” I have read J’s First Friday Fiction, and I strongly suspect that Rosa lives there under other names—Michelle, Jessica, and Crystal come to mind; I think there are others. One heartbreak seems to have led to several cries of pain. If you learned your lesson with Rosa, why, oh why, would you consider making the same mistake again?

These words are not meant to hurt you, my brother. This is a sincere rebuke from a fellow Christian. I beg you to change direction before it is too late. And I commend you for trying, at least, to seek the will of the Lord in this matter.

My name is Salvageable, and I approved this message. J.

First Friday Fiction Flashback: Rose Thorns

Finally, I was a high school senior: supreme over three quarters of the student body, ready to leave school in less than a year, almost an adult. The first day of school is always fun, but nothing matches the fun of the first day of senior year. Even preparing to study history and science and math seems exciting on the first day of the senior year.

History class looked especially bright that year—I knew nearly every student in the room, and the few I didn’t already know seemed like people I would enjoy knowing. No one, though, glowed with as much promise as the new girl sitting in one of the front-row desks.

She caught my eye the instant I walked through the doorway. I was convinced at first that she must have come from California, or had at least spent the summer there. She fit my Midwestern stereotype of a California girl: slender and graceful, with long straight blond hair, and with a bright cheerful smile. She dazzled each of us entering the room with her dazzling smile, and she charmed us all with her gentle, friendly brown eyes just above her small, pert nose.

The California stereotype vanished during attendance when she answered to the name of Shannon Knight. Her name and her voice were unmistakably southern, and rural southern at that. I wondered what had brought this belle to our northern village.

I knew right away that Shannon was going to be very popular. Her attitude towards her fellow students showed warmth and interest without a hint of vanity or conceit. People like her are never short of friends, so I figured that I had no reason to get to know her. I know this sounds funny, but I prefer friends who are not popular. They can spend more time being my friend because they aren’t busy trying to be the whole world’s friend.

A couple of months passed, and I noticed that Shannon was not surrounded by admirers as I had expected. Perhaps she escaped notice from the crowd because she was quiet. Maybe it’s just that we had already made our friends during the first three years of high school and no one was ready to add her to their group. It struck me that Shannon needed a friend, and I also needed a friend. I was sure that I could get along with a girl who smiled as much as she did.

I should explain that all through high school I was lacking what most high school boys consider a necessity: I didn’t have a girlfriend. I had several friends who were girls, but I had no one to take to movies or to offer gifts or to write long letters. I hadn’t really tried hard to find a girlfriend, because I knew that I hadn’t yet met the “right girl.” At first, I wasn’t thinking of asking Shannon to be my girlfriend. She seemed lonely, and I realized that I felt lonely too.

One day after history class I walked by her side down the hall. I don’t remember how I started the conversation, but I probably said something about the class. As I had hoped, Shannon was easily engaged in conversation. Within days we were seeking each other out in the halls, walking and talking together between classes and after school. By the end of the month we had traded phone numbers, and we began having long conversations after supper as well as in the school halls.

In these conversations, I learned that Shannon had lived in the small town of Acorn, Virginia until that summer. She was exactly one month older than me. She liked people, but she didn’t like crowds. Her favorite settings were forests and mountains. She abhorred cities. She had no great preference in contemporary music, aside from the fact that she hated both disco and hard rock. Her favorite music was written by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. She liked to read, and she hoped someday to be an author.

“I just read a really neat book,” she told me one day. “It was about a newspaper reporter who falls in love in love with a Russian actress and spends years trying to meet her.”

“What’s the name of the book?” I asked her.

“I don’t remember,” she replied.

“Well, who wrote it?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” she repeated. “Why worry about the details? The story is what matters, not the title and name on the cover.”

Her entire philosophy seemed to consist of ignoring labels and other unimportant details. Once when I asked her about her religion, she simply answered, “Christian.”

“But what kind of Christian?” I persisted. “Are you Baptist or Lutheran or Catholic or what?”

“Just a Christian,” she shrugged. “That’s enough.”

I was surprised later to learn that she was a devout Catholic. “I didn’t tell you,” she added, “because it’s not important. Christians shouldn’t argue and fight over their differences. There are enough non-Christians in the world who need our attention. As long as we believe in Jesus as our Savior, why fight about the rest?”

Another time I commented, “You know what amazes me? It’s strange that the two of us became such good friends in such a short time.”

“I don’t believe in being half a friend,” she responded. “People say, ‘Let’s just be friends,’ when what they really mean is that they don’t want to be friends at all. There’s no such thing as ‘just friends.’ All friends are good friends.”

On a different day, either before or after that conversation, Shannon said, “I don’t know why so many people who call themselves ‘friends’ feel a need to prove themselves. Friends don’t need proof; they just need to be loved. I don’t mean love like in the movies, but just plain, simple love. You can’t call yourself a friend without love.”

The first time Shannon visited my house was a warm Saturday afternoon at the start of November. We had not yet had a killing frost, and a lot of the flowers in my mother’s garden were still blooming. Shannon had told me that she liked flowers, so I made sure to show her the late blooms. As we strolled around among the plants, Shannon began whistling a light, simple tune. “That’s pretty,” I told her.

“It has words,” she mentioned, and without waiting for me to ask, she sang them to me. “The prettiest flower fades in an hour, dries up, and is blown away. The roses last longer, their perfume is stronger, but thorns take their beauty away.”

“It’s a nice tune,” I remarked, “but it loses something with those words.”

“The words are the thorns on that rose,” she explained. “Every beautiful thing has its own kind of thorns. Personally, I don’t like roses. Roses are hypocrites—they draw you in by their beauty and then stab you when you touch them. You can’t hurt yourself picking a daisy. Besides, there’s more to a plant than its flower.”

Shannon rarely observed the negative side of anything in life, so her attitude about roses surprised me. I also noticed that she never said “Good-bye.” When I mentioned that fact to her she said, “I prefer to end conversations with ‘Have a nice day,’ or ‘See you tomorrow.’ ‘Good-bye’ sounds so final. It sounds as if you expect never to see that person again.”

Nothing bothered her more than a negative person. “Why can’t they see the light?” she wondered. “Every person has at least one good point, and other people should spend their time looking for that good point instead of focusing on the bad. In any case, they ought to keep their observations to themselves. It’s not my business what one person thinks about another person.” Shannon also disliked worriers. “There are so many good things to consider in the world. It’s no use focusing on the bad things that could happen. Worrying improves nothing. Action can solve problems and make the world better, but people who worry never accomplish anything. Worrying is a waste of time and energy.”

Shannon almost never was angry, but when she did lose her temper, her outbursts were generally constructive. One day in January, I came to school discouraged because of clouds, the snow, and the cold. “Nobody should have to get out of bed on a day like today,” I grumbled.

Shannon looked directly at me, and it felt as if sparks were flying from her eyes. “When you can change the weather, go ahead and do it,” she told me. “Until then, keep quiet about it.”

“I have the right to say how I feel,” I insisted.

“Not around me you don’t,” she said firmly, and that was the last word allowed on that subject.

Spring finally came, and Shannon’s family had relatives visiting. That Saturday afternoon, Shannon called me and surprised me with her request. “We’re putting together a baseball game this afternoon, but we’re short one player. Would you like to join us?”

“You play baseball?” I asked her.

“I play first base,” she answered.

“Are you any good?” I dared to ask.

“Last year I hit about .300 in summer league,” she said. “Are you coming or not?”

“Leave second base open for me,” I offered.

The game was good-natured and I enjoyed it, even though our team lost. After the game, Shannon’s father asked me to stay for dinner, and I accepted. We ate a picnic supper of grilled hamburgers with chips and salads and lemonade. When we were done eating, Mr. Knight started a bonfire. Shannon went into the house and came back with a guitar. She played the guitar and led us in singing some songs we all knew. She also sang some songs I had never heard before. Sunday night, as we spoke on the phone, I mentioned my surprise, learning in one day both that she played baseball and that she played the guitar. “I never knew either of those things about you,” I commented. “I thought I knew you better than that.”

“You were wrong,” she teased me. “Nobody knows everything about me. No one ever will know anything about me. I expect to die a mystery to the world.”

The next weekend I offered to return the favor by taking Shannon to a movie. “I’d invite your whole family to come, but I can’t afford to pay for all their tickets.”

“That’s fine,” she assured me. “They’ll be happy enough just to be rid of me for the evening.”

The movie was good, but somehow sitting next to Shannon in the dark seemed awkward. Before and after the movie, everything we said to each other felt stilted and unnatural. I don’t know why taking her to a movie led to such discomfort, but everything about that night seemed wrong. Shannon obviously felt the same way. When I dropped her off at her house, she looked at me and said, “That was an awful evening!” Oddly, I felt better after she said that to me. Fortunately, she never mentioned our movie night again.

Straight, blunt honesty had always been one of Shannon’s traits. I’m unsure whether to call it a virtue or a fault. We talked about what constitutes a virtue once, and it was one of the few times we disagreed. I insisted that a person’s feelings were more important than always telling the truth. “Lies never helped anyone,” Shannon countered.

“In that case, maybe the best thing to do is change the subject, or say nothing at all,” I offered.

“A half-truth is worse than no truth at all,” she insisted, “and saying nothing or changing the subject is only half a truth. Honestly is always the best policy, and that’s a fact.” Although she didn’t convince me to change my mind, our difference of opinion did not threaten our friendship.

Late in April, I offered to take her to a restaurant. “I don’t know,” she demurred. “Perhaps we should do something outdoors, something where we can be natural with each other.” We promised each other that over the summer we would find outings that suited both of us, activities that would not make us feel stilted and awkward. “You’re not going to forget this promise?” she asked me.

“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “No matter what happens, I will never forget you.”

The school year was winding down; graduation was getting closer every day. Our friendship remained stable, although we were slightly competitive when it came to grades. Shannon was earning an A in English, largely because of her skill at creative writing. Although she sought a life that was simple, her mind was not simple. She was very capable of creating and polishing a complicated and interesting story. She also excelled at math, but with less enthusiasm. “I don’t know how I get As in math; I don’t even try hard,” she commented. Shannon was also passing me by in history, another one of her hobbies along with writing. In chemistry and in Physical Education, it looked as though I might have the edge over her, grade-wise.

On the sixteenth of May, I could tell that something was bothering her. She had just come out of math class, but I couldn’t tell if she was thinking about math or about something else. Shannon was very quiet as we walked from her locker down the hall, out the door, and toward the students’ parking lot. Suddenly, on the sidewalk, she turned to me and said, “Some days I get so mad at myself that I can’t even see straight.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked her.

She hesitated, then shook her head. “Not right now,” she said. “Would you like a ride home?”

“Not today,” I replied. “The walk and the fresh air will be good for me.”

“OK,” she said. “Enjoy your walk. Goodbye.”

“Bye,” I said, and I set out for home.

The seventeenth of May was a Saturday, and I didn’t expect to hear from Shannon until evening. I thought about her all morning, wishing I was bold enough to invite myself over to her house, but my parents frowned upon such bad manners. Late that afternoon the telephone rang, and of course my mother shared the news with me right away.

A few days later I was walking through my mother’s garden, and I saw that the buds on her roses were swelling, getting ready to burst into bloom. My eye traced down the stem to the thorns half-hidden among the leaves. Tears came to my eyes and I knelt in the dirt, crying, as I remembered the florist’s roses Shannon had held in her hands as she lay in the coffin.