Last week, I found out my college friend Jeff was ill with late-stage lung cancer. On Monday, I found out he had died.
I hadn’t seen Jeff for years, maybe since we graduated from college. I don’t know much about his life in recent years, or the events that led up to his death. That story doesn’t belong to me. But what does belong to me – what I am remembering this week – is my friendship with Jeff, and the joy he carried around.
Jeff was one of those small, skinny guys with a big personality – effervescent, exuberant, larger than life. He was restless, energetic, constantly in motion. Maybe that’s how he managed a kind of magic trick: he seemed to be everywhere on campus, for four years. You could hardly walk across campus without running into him. And if there was a big event – Welcome Week for new freshmen, Homecoming, Spring Break service trips, Sing Song (our annual campus variety show), Jeff was there. Usually in a leadership role, and often in a wacky costume.
He had hundreds of friends – from every social group, every class, every academic department. He pledged a popular fraternity and loved those guys fiercely, but he never let his popularity become a barrier: he greeted everyone with the same level of enthusiasm. And it wasn’t fake enthusiasm but genuine joy: I knew he was always glad to see me, and I was always glad to see him.
Jeff dove headfirst into Sing Song as a freshman (he co-directed our class’s winning act), and his Sing Song fever never let up. He participated in seven different acts over four years. (The photo above is of Jeff and me before our senior show, when we and a hundred or so of our classmates dressed up as Jedi knights.) No one loved Sing Song – arranging music, sewing costumes, making up wacky, ACU-themed lyrics to popular songs – like Jeff.
He co-led the Spring Break service trip that ended up being my first visit to Boston. My husband (who was in the group too) and I still laugh about how Jeff made our group walk three miles – uphill, in the snow! – from Harvard Square to Fenway Park, because “it’s not that far on the map, guys.” He could be a flake and he had (obviously) no sense of direction at all, but it was impossible to stay mad at him.
Singing – not just Sing Song but singing a cappella hymns in daily chapel – is a big part of life at ACU. Jeff had a surprisingly deep bass voice, and we sang together in freshman chorale and on many praise teams over the years. He loved music and would burst into song at any opportunity. He sang – as he did everything else – with such joy.
As I said above, there’s a lot I don’t know about Jeff’s story: I know it’s darker and more complicated than what I’ve written here. I know there are others – his sisters, his close friends – whose grief runs deeper than mine. But I also know this: the world is a little less bright without Jeff in it.
My husband, in a tribute to Jeff on Facebook this week, said simply, “I always felt welcome when he was in the room.” I hope that wherever you are, Jeff, you are being made welcome, as you welcomed others. We’ll miss you.