Monday, April 28, 2014

Of Loss and Love

I still remember the day I met Dani. She was a tiny thing, but only in body. She was fascinating and beautiful and I regarded her with curious awe. She spoke of ballet and neuroscience, of an obsession with Dr. Pepper and McDonald's, of Korea and Haiti and her journey, just beginning, at Peace Corps Ghana. And I thought to myself, with an ounce of jealousy that I wasn't enjoying Dr. Pepper or McDonald's in that moment, that this tiny woman and I were going to be friends.

Today marks the one year anniversary of her death, a life given in service and taken away by Malaria. My prediction was right, by the way. She became a sister to me - bonded by music and dance and a streak of independence that left us drooling after Beyonce and declaring one another a 'boss.' As in, 'If he ain't steppin' up, drop it like a boss.' We were fierce.

I remember her death like it were yesterday, clamoring to keep myself together and failing miserably. I remember planning her memorial and showing up with endless cakes and cupcakes because, I half-joked, I was baking my feelings. It wasn't the baking that helped, of course, but the loving support of countless people Dani had managed to touch. The sorrow we felt was deep, but the love we felt much deeper. The day we said goodbye was the day each of us began a new life dedicated to living a little more like Dani every day.

Without a doubt, Dani changed me; she changed everyone she met. She was the kind of person I was grateful to know in life, whose passing wasn't necessary to the recognition of her importance. I wish I'd had more time, that I'd been able to visit her in Atlanta and witness what would have been an amazing life. I would have liked to have grown old with her; I celebrated three birthdays in Ghana and Dani was there for each one. Whether she was writing me into the Ghana AIDS Project constitution or explaining the finer points of twerking, she was always a surprise - a delightful, thoughtful, intelligent role model for anyone within arm's reach.

In her memory I strive to have compassion at all times, to greet everyone I meet with love and laughter, to dance when I want to dance and to own my strength without apology. We used to talk about forgiveness and empathy, about the heart's struggle with the ego, and now that those conversations exist only in memory I try, each day, to be the person we discussed so often. She managed to make me a better human being, to inspire me to live up to my potential, and her legacy, taken and held by those who loved and knew her, only continues to grow.

My thoughts are with her family today, with each of us facing the bittersweet combination of welling eyes and quivering smiles. Sadness comes in waves, but mostly I feel love - an incredible lightness of being - because she continues to shape a world she left much better. She lives through us, through our actions and our words, through our endless dedication to her memory, which means that she still lives. She may only be one tiny, Dr. Pepper drinking, independent, Beyonce loving part of me, but she's there always.

We miss you, baby girl.