By: Charlotte Jackson
At some point in 2013, I met a young man who I had seen on the campus of the community college where I work, yet had never taken the time to get to know. Late one afternoon as he walked down the hall, I looked up from my work and we made eye contact. He smiled and I spoke to him. I think it startled him that I spoke his name, as he had lived a life trying not to be noticed. He stepped into the doorway of my office and asked how I knew his name. I explained that I had seen him on campus for a few semesters and that we had several mutual friends who had mentioned him to me from time to time. Suddenly a big smile broke out on his face. It was as if he was amazed that people cared enough to mention him by name.
It was during that first visit that he noticed a picture of my daughter from her Army Basic Training. He asked who the person was in the picture. When I explained that she was the youngest of my three children, he suddenly looked perplexed. Those next words he spoke are some that I will never forget. “Ms. Charlotte, you are not ashamed or embarrassed to have her picture on your desk?”
Now it was me with the bewildered look. He went on to explain…“Ms. Charlotte, look at her. She and I have the same skin tone. All of my life, I tried to scrub the black out of me so I would look like my mom. But it never worked.”
That was the first of many late afternoon chats which led me to love him as a son. (Those who know me know I have a special place in my heart for young adults who have lost a parent or are on a journey where they do not have a healthy relationship with a parent).
On Monday, March 31, 2014, I ran into him on campus. When I asked how he was doing, he broke out with the most amazing smile and shared with me that he had started a new job and before long he would be able to do something he had been waiting to do. I asked if that was to buy some furniture for his new apartment and again, that smile broadened.
“No, when I get my paycheck, I am going to put aside some money and take you out to eat for Mother’s Day.” With that, I gave him a hug and told him that he did not have to do that and that I was so proud of his accomplishments. I told him that my daughter is due to get out of the Army sometime around Mother’s Day which was all I wanted, but his offer to take me out to eat would be like icing on the cake. He was all smiles and then he asked, “Do you think she would mind if I went with you to pick her up from the airport? You know, I may not have met her yet, but I think of her like a little sister—a little sister that I am proud of.” I laughed and hugged him again and told him that he was welcome to go with me. And then I told him to always remember that no matter how much I loved him and how proud of him that I am, God loves him even more and is surely one proud Dad of the man he has become.
Painfully, I received a phone call just three days later. He had been killed that morning while riding his bicycle to work. My heart broke. Many emotions filled my head. As the tears flowed over the next several days, I heard so many people talk about how unfair it was that someone like him, who never wanted to be a problem or an inconvenience to anyone, had their life cut so short. While reflecting on the brief friendship we shared, several songs came to mind. Elton John’s “Like a Candle in the Wind” seems to be on a soundtrack playing over and over in my head, but a very special song titled “Just Love” by Brian Courtney Wilson is the one that brings peace to me. The song talks about unconditional love and acceptance. That truly was all my friend ever wanted—unconditional love and acceptance; and sadly, as he was finally finding it, his candle was blown out.
He may be gone from this earth, but his legacy of being a quiet, respectful person seeking love and acceptance will live on until we meet again someday.