He loved simple things: the rush of the wind as he rode his bike along Honeydew’s lakefront; the sudden bursts of spring bathing the city in shades of green…… Johannesburg was his playground, and he embraced it with a lover's passion and a child's wide-eyed wonder. Under his nurturing strokes I blossomed, discarding the cocoon I'd developed to shield myself from the pain of life and love.
Friend, like love, is a word that is often misused. But I called Francois my friend. At 26 he was killed in a car accident, and the word took on new meaning - it became synonymous with Francois. I began to reconsider those people whom I'd once casually and quickly called friends.
He was a good listener and had a sincere love of people. But he was also challenged by the complexity of things around him, and he loved finding solutions to people's problems.
Francois was not perfect; he had human frailties, but he also had enduring, endearing qualities. He was compassionate and caring. He was young and talented, and he gave little thought to death and dying.
I met him about eight years ago, and we settled as comfortably into each other as nesting birds - perhaps because I needed someone, and he was willing to give. I had been disappointed in my relationships and had grown cynical and distrustful. I deemed life unkind and approached it with my guard up, ready to battle. But Francois wove himself into my life, enduring my mood swings simply because he felt I was worth the trouble. Where others (and even myself) sometimes questioned my sanity, he simply said that I had depth and sensitivity - rare gifts, not handicaps. He was patient and loving when I found it impossible to love myself. He talked me through fitful nights when there seemed no way out. His love was a refuge for my bruised self-esteem. I can't count the times he told me to look to myself for happiness because it was something no one else could give me.
Sometimes I felt selfish. He seemed to give until he was exhausted, and then he would give more. But I've come to realize that this was the role he chose and embraced. I gave by being there, by needing him.
We often took long drives. I felt so relaxed and safe, I'd curl up and sleep as he drove. But this never stopped him from talking: He simply went on chattering, and I'd mumble occasionally to let him know I was still there. He was my living reminder that men could be friends in the true sense of the word.
His obituary stated that he was "wise beyond his years." I had to smile at that simple truth. I have yet to meet a man who was so wise and yet so willing to give to others without seeking rewards.
When he died, I asked myself why it had been he and not I. I would gladly have given my life for his. Why hadn't I been in that car as I had on so many other occasions? He was the one who enjoyed life, not I. He embraced it, treasured it. He was one of life's survivors. But I've come to understand how selfish my reaction was. My first thoughts had been for myself: What will I do without him? I had forgotten all he had tried to teach me about loving - life and myself. I have begun to remember his precious lessons.
I am slowly learning not to dwell on the past and not to spend my life trying to regain what is gone. Sorrow, like all things, has its season, and if we allow it to teach us, it can heal us.