Adapted from “Counting Down,” a post from January 3, 2013.
On January 21, 2012, my roommate Dan left for Philadelphia on the snow-covered turnpike and never returned home. He was in the hospital in a coma when I interviewed for entry at the University of Pittsburgh, and he died two days before I got the email stating that I was recommended for acceptance. I do not remember the winter of 2012 very well except for the time when I finally stopped thinking about Dan every hour of every day, by the time I had cleaned out his toothbrush and shaving cream from the bathroom, that I was living a whole month behind the rest of the world, writing the wrong date on my classroom whiteboard and missing deadlines for the Patriot-News with clockwork regularity.
Behind him, Dan left some weights for lifting, some glassware, and a massive, tightly-sealed Tupperware of Tetley’s tea that I still drink almost daily in Pittsburgh. But he also left behind two lessons, the first from when he lived among us, and the second from when he did not.
When living, Dan showed me — among other things — how to open yourself up to people, to draw in those around you, to create community, to cultivate love.
But when Dan died, he made me think through life in a completely different way, causing me to question if I had fully appreciated this bright-eyed roommate while I had had the chance. Had I truly listened to him when he needed to speak? I had shared the crisper drawers in the refrigerator, but to what extent had I done so with my time? Had I ever thanked him for loving my cat and paying his rent? In other words, had I really known the worth of him? His life? Human life?
I struggle with being grateful for what exists in the moment. I find it really difficult to see the process over the destination. To be grateful for the ability to learn instead of focusing on the agony of being in school. To say “thank you” for the life that allows me to live in two cities simultaneously instead of complaining about the exhaustion of shuttling between them both.
But what changes when I can understand what I’ve already received? Can I say “thank you” daily for my own life, every time I steep Dan’s tea?