I have been struggling for the last several days to find the proper things to say here. I suppose I'll start at the beginning.
Just this past Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call. It was from the son of one of my best friends in the whole world, Joanne. He called me to tell me that she had passed away on Monday. I was stunned. For two reasons, really. The first is fairly simple. It sounds cliche, but really, she epitomizes the phrase "full of life". Let me tell you a few things about Joanne. At the age of 18 or so she was working in an office, when "corporate America" was just getting into full swing. She hated it, hated the people, the environment, everything, so she decided that she would never work in an office again. And she never did. She also, after seeing all those people, working day after day in their mindless and painful drudgery, that she would dedicate the rest of her life to doing whatever was best for herself and making herself and her loved ones happy. A few years after her son was born, she realized she wasn't happy in her marriage, that her husband was an asshole and treated her like shit. Being the free spirit she was, she decided she would leave him, and that she had never seen South America before, so she took her son, packed her bags, hopped in her car and DROVE down through Mexico and Central America, and then East through the northern part of South America till she hit the Amazon.
I met her many years later when she was in her early-ish forties. Me, being brought up in a traditional Asian household, was thrown off by her whole appearance and demeanor. I was intimidated and almost...diminished in her presence. She was just one of those people who shines just SO brightly in this drab and dull, life and soul draining concrete jungle. I suppose she felt I was a kindred spirit. She was a friend of a very close and dear family friend (one of my father's oldest black belts) who was like an uncle to me, so I immediately liked her because of association, I suppose. A year or so later, my parents divorced, I left my mother's house and bounced around here and there, scared and alone. She helped my father deal with the divorce, the loss of his family, and his children, and helped him to really deal with me as a real person, and not an extension of him. After I moved in with my dad, Joanne and I became very close. I could tell just by looking in her eyes, that despite all I had been through, despite my loathing and fear of the rest of humankind, that she was a kind and good person that I could trust. She was the first person I ever fully trusted in my entire life, and she never disappointed me nor did she ever betray that trust.
Joanne did so many things for me, mostly intangible, but I can say with certainty that I am a better person and a better woman for having known her. I wouldn't be the person I am today by any means were it not for her. She was the one person I could always depend on that would always support me, always be there for me if I needed her. She took me under her wing, and showed me so many things I had never been exposed to, and taught me about people, animals, life, and where my place was in the world. Throughout my teenage years she would call me on the weekends early in the morning and pick me up from my dad's to take me on adventures. Once, in the summer, she took me to some remote place in the mountains where there was snow. I remember I was wearing a tank top and was cold, but she literally dragged me out of the car and made me walk around in the snow. "Get out of this god damned car and FEEL the snow! Feel the air, breathe it in! Come on out and LIVE!! " That is what she shouted at me. It was a mantra that she repeated to me on dozens of occasions. Another time, knowing I had limited experience with animals, but loved them anyway, she took me to a ranch with horses and gave me apples to feed them. I remember myself being so delighted at actually having real interaction with animals (compared to the near sterile environment I grew up in, my mother hated animals) and then later sitting in the grass against a huge tree, looking up at the sky, talking about existence. When my own father wouldn't buy me a prom dress to go to prom because he couldn't understand what a prom was and why I would want to go, SHE bought me a prom dress, and worked with my now stepmother to get my hair and makeup done, and then a mutual friend of ours to have pictures taken of me. I had always had a terrible self esteem and self image, but in this way she made me see that I wasn't such a horrendously ugly troll after all...that maybe I could be pretty.
Later on, in my twenties, I worked in corporate America while going to college, which I hated. I told her so many times that I envied her ability to make a living outside of a cubicle. When she got too overwhelmed and stressed with mundane shit, she would go to Florida and swim with the dolphins. Or else go and crash in a hut on a beach in Mexico for a month. She always had the same answer to my complaints: "Don't envy me...just DO it! Why can't you just do it? If you want to do something, nothing's holding you back but you." And she was so right. After leaving the corporate world, I too made the decision that I'd never work in corporate mainstream America again unless I was my own boss. As she pointed out to me so many times, why do work that I hate, with people that I hate? If I'm going to spend more than half my day at work, every day, it might as well be a place that I'm happy at, or doing work I'm happy with, or working with people I actually LIKE.
All in all, I am almost ashamed to say that I think I took more from Joanne than I gave back to her. She certainly left me a lasting legacy that's engraved on my heart, mind, and soul. She performed what I see as miracles to help me understand myself and others, and to make me feel like I had some self worth, and to above all, live my life and be happy. She lived her own life without compromise, and she never lied to other people, or most importantly, herself. With her passing I am even more determined to make my decisions as I see fit, to live as much as I can without regret without looking back, to love myself and be happy with myself. My own personal obsession with counter culture and rebellion and "fuck the establishment" kind of thinking is in good part because of her. There are so many people in my life now that I love and care a great deal for that I never would have met if not for her, and so many experiences that I treasure, that I would never have experienced if not for her.
Fortunately for me, although I knew her for 15 years, damn near half my life, I was blessed to have known her and am honored that she saw me as a daughter/sister, and I can't say that we didn't have enough time. She also was open and expressive with her feelings and affection, and she taught me to be so on the proper occasions as well. I always knew where I stood with her, and despite my initial discomfort with being so open (we Asians are NOT in touch with our feelings whatsoever) I think she always knew where she stood with me as well. That's alone is the main reason why I won't hang up on someone, or leave issues unresolved, or never tell someone how I really feel about them. Because you never know.
And so, Joanne, I say to you - I know with certainty that you feel that you're on the next leg of your journey towards your own personal nirvana. I will try to remember everything you taught me and pass it on to others. I will never forget you.