Sitting in the backseat of a Prius I quietly watch the landscape transition from a prickly cactus carpet to groupings of regal palm trees and let the white-noise hum of traveling down a lonely highway lull me into thoughts of remembrance.
This past Christmas morning, I lost a dear friend that I’ve known for over fifteen years. Her name was Gail.
I thank her for her part in my journey.
When I was in my late twenties, I traveled by car from Chula Vista, California to Los Angeles to study in a grueling design program, to intern, and to work. It was an energy depleting but necessary commute, a distance of 127 miles (according to Google Maps) that took approximately two and a half hours to travel just one way–depending of course, on how many traffic accidents there were along the way any given day.
Halfway along this route was Gail’s house, a rest stop for sleeping and for strengthening your soul. Late at night, weary from a 12 or 14-hour day, I would pass under the grand explosions of fireworks from The Happiest Place on Earth, and inch myself closer down the congested highway to a welcoming little house in Orange County with an open door policy. Here, strangers quickly became extended family and the mashed potatoes served up were an experience all their own. (They’d have you rethinking your own family’s traditional recipe come Thanksgiving.)
When I think on what it means to love unconditionally, an image of Gail’s smiling face comes to mind. She embraced everyone she met and took a genuine interest in all your goals and dreams. It didn’t matter where you came from or what you looked like or what age you were. She was a cheerleader for your life. And her positivity was contagious.
Appreciate those who don’t give up on you. –Unknown
From the backseat of the Prius I can see the jagged purple skyline of California mountains rise up higher with each passing minute. I reflect on those long commutes, softened with a place to rest, and all the time that has passed since.
Seven hours in a car to reach a memorial service seems like too small an act to honor a woman who has had such an impact on my life.
I wouldn’t have made it through school without Gail. All the extraordinary memories and accomplishments I was able to achieve during that short time would’ve been but blank pages in the storybook of my life had she not believed in me and supported me.
I could begin this New Year with a heavy heart–the one that comes when you experience a loss–but instead, I choose to hold tight to a feeling of gratitude. I will always remember how Gail had a way of making you feel and believe like you could have the world if you wanted it.
What a spectacular idea it is to think, as we travel along whatever roads we choose to take to get to so many destinations in life–that we might meet someone along the way who gives us hope. Hope, not just for the generosity and kindness of mankind, but for our own potential to make a difference in the lives of others if we’ve been fortunate enough to have had a shining example. I hope to continue honoring her in that way.
I will miss you Gail. Thank you for traveling with me and teaching me how to be a better navigator as I travel life’s open highway.