Ode to an Old Friend

Karen Hallenbeck August 5, 1968 - December 3, 2013
Karen Hallenbeck
August 5, 1968 – December 3, 2013

I shouldn’t be doing this.  I have so much to do, and I just don’t have the time to sit and write right now. Yet, like some obsessed creature of habit, I have no choice. The feelings well up inside of me and I must, without pause, sit and let them out.

I can feel the emotional tides shift within me.  They come in waves, sometimes they crash into the crusted shoreline of my mind, and in others they gently lap upon the grainy sands of time, pulling those sands away while gently erasing the footprints left behind. I do, sometimes, struggle with it in the face of my own conditioning.  Emotions are for the weak, sadness for the meek and tortured soul with the phony stoicism of men being the standard-bearer of good behavior.  Yet I can’t help myself as I feel it all, and in that moment I decided to let it go because someone, somewhere, feels it too.  And there the lie ends.

Death does not ordinarily effect me in this way.  It is a certainty, and because I have no idea what will happen during or afterward, I usually don’t dwell on it, instead choosing to focus on the act of living.  Death will come to me, as it will to all of us, yet I see no value in dwelling so much on the destination when there seems to be so much left in the journey to get there.  Maybe. One cannot be certain of the destination, except that I have arrived where I am, now, at that may need to be enough.

This week I lost a friend, and I’m not sure why I am so effected. We were once good friends, in our youth, and I’ve always had fond memories of her. She was a beautiful girl, with a happy, peaceful way about her that made the chaotic, confused me stand up and take notice. She was always someone I was happy to see, and I would always enjoy her hugs and her voice, which was unique in its deliberateness as well as in its pure sweetness.  I was fortunate to experience Karen for a few years until, as is quite often the case, I went one way and she went another, and we lost touch.

Enter social media, that often vilified method of human contact that, to me, has amazing potential to make the world smaller and our experience greater. On November 4th, I received a  Facebook friend request from Karen.  I felt like I always did back “in the day”, elated to hear from her and looking forward to seeing how time had treated her.  As many of us do, I immediately went to her page, checking out the pictures and stories in order to close the gap between then and now. She looked just like she did back then, with the same smile she always had.  She appeared to not have aged a bit, with that bright, genuine smile and graceful posture I had always known. It was awesome to see she had become engaged, and that her life had brought her the love she so readily deserved.

We caught up a bit, promising to catch up more after the holidays.  On Saturday, December 1st, I laughed at her admiration of the new recliners at a local movie theater, and her suggesting that they are designed to put you to sleep so you’d have to pay to watch the movie again.  I had suggested the same thing to my own children when we went not too long ago, and I wondered how many had the same thoughts when sitting in those chairs for the first time. Great minds think alike, even on the simplest of experiences. Yes, I smile at the notion, and feel a joy in my heart even through the sense of loss that comes with these memories.

On Sunday, she talked a bit of “trash” as most Eagles’ fans do when our team wins an important game.  Thankfully, Karen was a home-town girl, and not some Cowboys fan who must have been switched at birth.  Yes, somewhere out there is an Eagles’ fan living in Dallas, switched at birth with a half-brained sports nitwit who, with their blue star and pathetic love of a team whose city they’ve likely never visited, dumbs down the sports IQ of the entire City of Philadelphia. I have a feeling there are many out there who understand what I am saying, and are laughing at the suggestion.  Even up in that mystical place some might call “heaven”.

There are events that clearly define a person’s place in the world.  Not their physical place, but their metaphysical place.  You can find a lot about yourself in how you react to others. In this case, I’ve found that I truly value the loving presence of great people, people who judge everyone as equals (or don’t judge them at all). They work to be a positive influence in the world, and rarely create anything but ripple after ripple of positive energy in this sea of life. Of course they aren’t perfect, they struggle like the rest of us with varying degrees of humanness, but they so effect your life in the positive that their negatives don’t seem to matter. They brighten up your day by making you see something in yourself that makes you smile, laugh, or at peace, and they do it from a distance was well as from the inside places of who we are.

So I honor my friend tonight, not because she died, but because she lived. I honor her not in her passing but in the permanent mark she made on others. While her sudden passing made me take inventory of the impermanence in my life, it also made clear the permanent imprints we can make on one another. We can have that kind of effect if we choose to.

It is said that “charity begins at home.” So does happiness. So does joy. So does peace, love and bliss. Anger and fear begins there, too, and we all have a choice on what kind of life we are to lead. The good news is that one can make choices in an instant, and we can choose to take the desires we have for beauty and make it real in any holy instant we want to. It is never too late, it is never too much to bear, and it is never anyone else’s fault. We are the creators.

I’m grateful that the life of Karen has created so much for so many, and I’m grateful to have known her.  I’m grateful that, in her passing, so many of us can share the exact same experience with a woman we’ve known at different times in our lives.  In the case of Karen Hallenbeck, this is not lip service paid to the newly departed, but a true testament of who a person was in the life she lived; a life lived as a beautiful pebble who created a gorgeous splash and wonderful ripple for us all.

So, we move on as we must, shed tears in memorium and smile in honor of a life well lived. There are some flowers you simply stop and smell for a while, and whose fragrance you never forget. I am glad to know so many.


In lieu of flowers donations in Karen’s memory may be made to Women of Hope, 14 B Estaugh Ave. Berlin, NJ 08009

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