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A time for reflection 

What happens when you get older? Leaving aside all the clinical stuff, your newspaper habits change -- instead of starting with the sports section, you start with the obits. And as time goes by, instead of being surprised to see the names of friends and acquaintances, you're surprised when you don't.

December is a time for remembrance, and a time for looking forward as well. Whether you see it as the time of the Nativity, or of the winter solstice, or of two long and expensive weekends, it's unlike any other month. For me, it's a time of reflection.

It's been a sad year. There are many to mourn, many to miss. Leon Young, for so many years a wise mentor on City Council, slipped quietly away, having lived a long, rich and honorable life. Two friends from childhood, Jack Armit and Allen Worrell, barely past middle age, died far earlier than either would have expected. Like Leon, they were exemplary human beings, whose lives enriched and illuminated all who were fortunate enough to know them.

I didn't go to Leon's funeral, or to Jack's, or to Allen's. My own life was troubled, and, selfishly, the emotional burden seemed too much to bear.

But a few days ago, Chris Dysart called me. Chris is cool, controlled, merry and cynical -- and he was weeping uncontrollably. After a couple of minutes, he was able to tell me why; his dear friend Jeff Kelly was dead, a suicide.

Jeff was 40. I'd known him for years, though not particularly well. He was one of a loose-knit group of smart, quirky, fiercely independent people who loved theater and the arts, and who worked various jobs to keep things together -- stagehand, house painting, construction, you name it. A mercurial, charming, difficult, radiant man, Jeff was irresistible to women and beloved by his pals. He had been despondent for weeks -- there wasn't much work, and he was having trouble making the rent. In despair, confiding in no one, he hung himself.

His friends were devastated. I knew that I had to go to his funeral, if only to honor the memory of someone whose life was neither easy nor complete. I didn't know what to expect.

The funeral was at Cappadona's modest facility on North El Paso, on a cold Saturday evening. It was jammed -- Jeff's brothers, come from Minnesota to bury their sibling, were overwhelmed. Jeff's friends, one by one, got up to speak, offering memories. The great actress Beth Clements, linked to Jeff by love and friendship for nearly two decades, gave a short, intensely moving eulogy. "The day I met Jeff", she said, stunned in grief, "I knew that one of us would bury the other -- I just didn't know that it would be me, and so soon ..."

Just two days before Jeff's funeral, I went to a different kind of event -- a wedding. Kelly, once a Bud Girl, now a strikingly beautiful 30-something mother of four, tied the knot with her longtime boyfriend Gary.

The wedding was in a tent erected behind Gary's business: the downtown diner, King's Chef. It was a big wedding in a small tent. We all squeezed happily in, and admired the wedding party. The bride, of course, and Gary, proud and serious, and four beautiful children -- it might have been a Norman Rockwell painting, slightly updated.

After the wedding, I talked for a while with Kelly's friend Melissa, a grave and beautiful woman, her face often shadowed by sorrow. Married to her childhood sweetheart, blissfully in love, a mother -- she lost her young husband to cancer two years ago. But the shadows are lifting; she's seeing someone whom she really likes. "He's been waiting for me for a long time -- and I finally gave in," she told me. "And is this going to be an important relationship?" I asked. "It already is!" she replied, with a delighted smile.

Leaving Jeff's funeral, I thought of so many lives, arcing, soaring, intersecting, and all eventually ending. To Jeff: Rest in peace, wherever you may be. To Beth: May your grief make you stronger. To Kelly, Gary and Melissa: the overflowing happiness that you deserve. To Allen's family, and Jack's, and Leon's: Count yourselves blessed that you knew and loved such men.

To my geezer homies at the coffee shop: don't any of you up and die on me for at least a year! And to all of us: May we give, and receive, love in greater measure than any of us can now imagine.

Happy holidays.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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