Never met you/won’t forget you

7 Jan

It nearly goes without saying: Memorial services for 23 year olds pack an emotional wallop. Friday’s memorial for David Pregerson delivered a double-, nay, quadruple-sized wallop. I need the blog to help disperse its impact so that I can (maybe) regain my equilibrium. Thanks, in advance, for allowing me this outlet.

As indicated last week, I never met David, who apparently goes went by “Dave,” or “Prego.” What little I “knew” about him, I gleaned from cursory internet research. Dave was:

  • The son and grandson of 2 federal judges (the latter of whom I know well and respect much);
  • A recent UCLA grad (Go, Bruins!);
  • An aspiring, talented filmmaker, but also a justice-seeker devoted to the GrowGood urban garden / therapy space at the Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter for Homeless Veterans (my skin feels the first of many goosebump prickles); and
  • A victim of a callous jackass hit-and-run driver (f*cking hit-and-run drivers! What is WITH L.A.’s epidemic in this regard?!?)

Because my background research yielded a few commonalities between me and Dave, I felt a sort of a kinship with him. I didn’t know him, but I sensed that maybe I could understand him, or at least some part of him, perhaps…

Um.

Yeah.

You know how sometimes you think it would be “fun” to attend your own funeral — especially if the place is packed and you lived a good life and your eulogists are clever, warm, and erudite? That would be awesome, right?

Yeah. Maybenotsomuch…

Dave’s service didn’t start out as “mine” would — first of all because it was at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple (SIDE NOTE: Does anybody know where a quasi-atheist like me would have a funeral?) and second because this massive hall was packed to capacity by an enormous wave of humanity (and high-powered politicos) in the middle of a workday afternoon. There’s no way I would ever generate that kind of turnout. Clearly this kid was not your typical kid… 

I got there late and had to sit up in the “small” (i.e., 300+person) balcony. The Rabbi was already well into his elegy, which included a tale about a 19th Century Rabbi named Zusha that went something like this:

Rabbi Zusha told his disciples, “When I die and face my judgment I do not fear that the angels will ask me, ‘Why were you not as spiritual as Moses?’ I will simply say Moses was a soul much greater than my own. Nor do I fear that they will ask me, ‘Why were you not as kind as Abraham?’ If they do, I will say that Abraham was unique in his capacity to do kindness. Nor do I fear that they will ask, ‘Why did you not compose songs to God as did David?’ If they do, I will say, ‘How can you compare me to the “sweet singer of Israel”?’ But what I DO fear is that they will ask me: “Zusha, why were you not Zusha?” and that for this I will have no answer!”

The Rabbi then shared some tales about the “Daveness of Dave” (a phrase coined by David’s father) that made it clear that Dave would have no reason to fear the angelic query, “Dave, were you Dave?” By the end of the service –heck, even 2 speeches into it– it was very clear that Dave was his own unique, inimitable self. A self that increasingly, eerily seemed very much like my own.

Here are some key phrases used to describe Dave; here’s where his funeral starts to feel like it might be “my” funeral:

  • He refused to follow other people’s definition of how to live his life
  • He personified the challenge he made to himself and everyone he loved –dare to know yourself– sometimes to the chagrin (and often to the awe) of his family and friends
  • The best way to get Dave to do something was to tell him that he couldn’t do it
  • Dave lived life fearlessly, always excited to see what was around the next corner
  • He was tirelessly creative, abundantly hopeful, completely authentic, and unnervingly fearless

Dave’s father shared the following tale: A few months ago, he (Dad) asked Dave whether he feared anything. Dave said, “Not really.” Pressing further (and with what now seems like a spooky bit of prescience), Dad asked, “Not even death?” Dave laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous, why would anyone be afraid of death?”

Dang. Dave might have been my kindred soul. His cheekiness. His go-get-’em-ness. His willfulness. His devotion to the downtrodden. His shining optimism about the future (for himself and others). His full-throttled embrace of adventure. His failure to yield to obstacles — both real and metaphorical. The fact that he “passed away due to brain injury…”

Fuck. When his aunt uttered those words I nearly passed out. That similarity hit a little too close to home. I mean, before I attended his service I knew that he was killed by a hit-and-run driver, but I hadn’t really anticipated or appreciated the fact that he died “due to brain injury.” I guess I had imagined him dying due to internal bleeding or some other trauma. I might’ve obliquely surmised that he likely would’ve suffered a concussion or something of that nature. But he died due to brain injury

Fuck. That could’ve been me.

I listened more intently now — searching for ways to distance myself from Dave. To make us less similar. To separate myself from this tragedy; this undeniably painful “Gee-damned Eff-ing tragedy” (as his brother put it) that so clearly eviscerated the hearts and souls of the congregants.

In the end, the only difference I found was one that I actually wished to share with him.

Dave’s favorite phrase, one that he apparently used multiple times a day and unfailingly offered with genuine warmth and penetrating truth, was “I love you.”

I love you.

This is a phrase that I have a very, very hard time uttering, even when I know that I “should.” Post-brain bashing, I’ve gotten a little bit better, a little freer, with expressing it. But it still tends to stick in my throat more often than it should; its unexpressed utterances filling me with regret.

Like Dave, I’m not afraid of dying because I’m not afraid to answer the angels’ question: “Z were you Z?” I feel like I’ve got that part of living down pat. When it comes to the actual dying thing though, it would be nice to exit this earthly plane with a standing-room-only crowd celebrating the “Z-ness of Z.”

In processing the “Daveness of Dave” and how it impacted the 1,000+ people in the temple (“like a massive crater” according to one of his eulogists) I’ve come to understand that the key difference between me and Dave is likely what drew so many people to celebrate his life. Maybe the way to have a massive crowd at your funeral is to simply be unafraid to say I LOVE YOU when you mean it.

Thank you Dave. We never met, but I won’t forget the lesson that you taught me on Friday.

Rest well, your legacy and love live on.

2 Responses to “Never met you/won’t forget you”

  1. Carissa Barker January 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    I love YOU Stin.

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