When I was thirteen, I had a parakeet. His name was Pudgie, and he was blue. He spent most of his time singing to himself and looking at his reflection in a mirror that hung in his cage, telling himself that he was a “pretty, pretty, pretty bird.”
One day, after school, I came home to find him on the bottom of his cage, feathers puffed out. When I called his name, he climbed up the bars of the cage to get as close to me as he could, but he was too weak to hold himself there for long. I called the vet immediately, sobbing. “My bird is sick,” I remember saying. My mother helped me pack him into the car and take him in for a checkup. He never came home.
But this post is not about Pudgie the budgie. This post is about David.
I met David in 1990. I was five years old. My mother was a firm believer in the benefits of enrolling her children in music lessons at an early age. By five, I had already taken violin lessons for a year and recorder lessons for a year after that. The recorder was my segue to the flute. It was a condition given to me by my mother before she would agree to invest in purchasing another expensive instrument - play the recorder for a year and, if I still wanted to play the flute after that, she would sign me up for lessons. So I served my mandatory sentence with the recorder. And then I met David.
He would have been twenty-eight at the time, the day of our first lesson. He didn't just teach me how to play the flute; David taught me how to be a good person. He taught me about compassion and patience. He taught me about love and respect. He taught me how the smallest acts can make the biggest difference to someone else... And that one of the greatest gifts you can give another person is simply being there for them when they need you. And, looking back at his notes on all of my music books, David was also frequently trying to teach me to slow down and breathe - advice that is applicable in both flute playing and in life.
My bird had died on a Thursday - flute lesson day. As soon as David saw my face, he knew something was wrong. Instead of going over Minuet or Humoresque or whatever piece we were working on that week, David rubbed my back while I sobbed in heart break. David was there, again, when I had to put my dog to sleep. My parents were treating me to takeout from the restaurant of my choice. It just so happened that I wanted burgers from a place that was located just across the street from where David was living at the time. My father saw him out on his balcony, called over to him and explained the situation. That day, David hugged me, as I tried not to cry in the passenger's seat of my dad's black pick-up truck.
When my mother told me David had called, I didn’t need to ask why. I knew he had been undergoing a few tests in the hospital. There is only one reason why people call me when they are sick or when their loved one is sick. They want to know about hospice.
I didn’t want to return his call and acknowledge the reality of the situation. I didn’t want David to die. I don’t want anyone to die, but I especially didn’t want David to die. How could David die?
Why didn’t I stop to say hi to him when I saw him walking on campus back in October? Why hadn’t I made more effort to catch up with him? Had I ever told him what a significant role he’d played in my life?
David was thrilled the day he moved to hospice. He'd been in the hospital for a month, sharing a room with three other people. "I had a shower this morning," he beamed at me when I saw him the next day. But, even in death, David was nothing but gracious. "I've lived a good life," he said. "I earned a PhD. I travelled around the world. I helped make good people," as he said this, he glanced at a friend, standing in the corner of the room. "See. Didn't I tell you I helped make good people?" he asked her.
David died on a Monday in December. I cried when they told me. It was a week and two days after he arrived at hospice. Two and a half days after the last time I saw him.
Instead of a funeral, they held a memorial concert. And, as I sat there, in the last pew of the church that day, I swear I could feel him in the music - smiling and looking around at all the people... Nudging me, saying, "not bad, huh?"
No, not bad at all. 


Starting off 2018 on the right foot...

"What the hell, you cunt bandit!" I exclaimed (to the cat).