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A different kind of love

It was freshman year, circa 2004. I was in love with him. I was in love with everything about him. I have never loved someone as much as I loved him. It wasn't a romantic love, though. It was the raw and pure love and care that is only known by the greatest of friends.

He wasn't my best friend. I don't know if we were technically even anything more than friendly acquaintances. But, despite barely knowing me, he cared about me. He cared about what happened to me.

He wanted me to thrive, to live life to the fullest. He valued my life.

He was wildly popular. Everyone loved him. He was always surrounded by people and always smiling and laughing.

I, on the other hand, was a quiet, self-absorbed, wall-fly 9th-grader who lived behind a shadow of self-hatred and self-doubt--nobody noticed me, cared about me, wanted to be my friend, or knew that I existed. I would sit against the hallway wall, pretending to look down at my notebook but secretly keeping an eye on my wandering classmates, mentally begging for someone to notice me.

Nobody acknowledged me there. Except for him.

We rarely exchanged words in person. I only have two vivid memories of us interacting in the two years we went to school together (beyond the occasional "hi" and "hello").

We would message on AOL Instant Messenger, though. Almost nightly. He would tell me how his day went. I'd tell him how unhappy I was and how much I hated my life--how I wanted to hurt myself.

He would tell me how much value I had and how I needed to share it with the world. He never said much, really, but he always said enough. He said enough to keep me afloat.

He put up with my often irrationally angry verbal dissent and would continue to encourage me to try new things and extend my comfort zone. He made me feel worth something.

Honestly, he didn't need to use words with me in person. One look with his piercing blue eyes said everything that I needed to hear. I would enter our high school, and he'd be sitting there with his friends. Our eyes would meet, for a split second until I looked away, embarrassed by whatever secrets I spilled to him or angry words I'd said.

It only took one second, though. His look said, "Hey, I see you. You exist. You're important. I hope your day is going well because you deserve for it to be going well. Don't forget that. I. SEE. YOU. And I acknowledge you."

It only takes one, folks.

One person to see you. One split second of one person seeing you. You then know it's possible for others to truly see you.

I'm talking about the Avatar-style, namaste-esque "seeing," when the goodness in you sees and acknowledges the good in someone else. The seeing that cuts through the armor, through the mask, through whatever lies you're trying to convince everyone are true.

My life was forever changed by those one-second acknowledgements. He gave me more than he probably ever knew.

He died in a boating accident four years after he first started helping me rediscover what it means to be alive.

I allowed myself to mourn him and celebrate him. I allowed myself to cry, to paint, to sing, to sleep, to listen. And a new life fire was lit under me. I had to continue to live the life that he saw in me. I had to keep trying new things, no matter how much they scared me.

I had to start living for him. And I have done so, for the most part.

August 2017 was especially mentally and emotionally tough for me, and I temporarily lost sight of him and the gifts he gave to me.

On the anniversary of his passing, I chose to mourn and celebrate him once again. I acknowledged the good he saw in me, the talents he knew I had, and the sense of purpose hiding under my built-up baggage.

I wrote him a letter, telling him about all of the good that has happened in my life since he left us, much of it thanks to his influence. And the fire started to slowly reignite.

I'm not perfect (nor would I want to be). And I still face similar-yet-different turbulence. No matter what struggles I’m facing, though, I am--and always will be--grateful to have had this beautiful stranger in my life.

I am grateful for all of the lessons I learned from him, specifically: the importance of trying new things even when they scare you, that I’m never as alone or uncared for as I might think, and to tell people when you love or appreciate or value them and why. And I am ready, once again, to live with purpose. I am ready to live "for him," but with a new outlook and in a new way.

I will live as the person he saw underneath my facade, the person he knew I can be and not allowing my worth to be attached to others. I will live without the need of approval or permission from others. I will live with the freedom I believe he wanted for me.

I will live my own life. And I will always strive to acknowledge whomever I can, whenever I can. You never know whose life you might end up saving or changing with a one-second glance or a smile and a hello.

Be kind. Be patient. Be giving. Be empathetic. Try not to judge others. Try to recognize when others’ actions are a cry for help. Reach out. You have the ability to make a huge difference in someone’s life.

I do my best to tell people what they mean to me on a regular basis. It’s encouraging. I believe that people love to make a difference, and they’re encouraged when you tell them how much they’ve helped you.

I challenge you to connect with at least one person today who has positively impacted your life. Help them know that they’re on a good track.

Make their day like they’ve made yours in the past.

Happy Valentine’s Day!