An Old Letter from a Friend

As I was digging through some papers I came across an old letter from a friend. Well, came across isn’t truly accurate since it has been sitting on my desk since she died a little over two years ago, but I haven’t read it since she sent it to me. The letter was written in 2003, when she was working as a teacher in the Jet program in Japan.

Have you ever seen a person, and immediately wanted to know them? That is what Sue was like for me. I had been living in Germany, and working in the Armed Forces Recreation Center. We lived in an old German hospital that had been built and designed by the Nazis, right before the invasion of Poland in 1938. It was oddly like dorm living in the “Shining Hotel” creepy and filled with ghosts. I lived in an area that we called the dispensary. Each hall had a communal kitchen. One morning, after coming home from a breakfast shift at the hotel where I worked, I passed the kitchen in my hall, and I saw Sue sitting in the window of the kitchen. People came through AFRC all the time. We were like sand in an hour-glass always spilling one way or the other mixed up and sifted, but still looking the same on the outside (Or so are the days of our lives- I caught my cliché). But she was different.

It had just snowed, and the cold air from the mountains came rushing by pushing the smoke from her cigarette half in and half out of the window. She had fine wispy golden blonde hair that would catch the chilled breeze and float around her face. I didn’t know why, but I wanted to know her. She had a glow or an essence that was so strong that without even looking or talking you felt pulled toward her, which was ironic because she was shy and socially awkward (at least she felt she was).  She had this gap in her front top teeth that was so distinctly her, and I knew if she ever had the means to fix it she wouldn’t. She was always pushing people to think deeper, to learn more, and to question. She was passionate about music, about the potential of humans, about living and life. Her favorite poet was Pablo Neruda, and she loved the movie Almost Famous. She was incredibly brilliant and inspiring, she was truthful and honest, one of those people that when they die people say, “Wow, what a loss she was a rare human being.” That’s what people said.

When she died, people from around the world came to her funeral, letters from Africa and Japan were sent and read over her coffin. She had been a Peace Writer, helping to tell the stories of women in other countries, part of a program of finding peace through women and their personal stories. She had just finished a piece with a Sudanese woman. She had studied conflict resolution, and she was done with graduate school and she was headed home.

I hate that she is dead. Hate is too strong a word and not the right word, I am discomforted with her death. All the other grief and questions of death have faded, like they do, and I am just left with this discomfort. My life is a little less without her. Oh, I try to keep positive in her way, I wouldn’t want to insult her existence by negating my way through life, but still there is that one bit of me that doesn’t like living in a world without someone like her, without her in it.

There are things left behind by her, like music from her band, and footage from a film I shot, and a music video I made for her for Christmas. There are a couple of pictures, and some small gifts she sent from Japan, and memories, and there are some letters with her words.

In regard to China:

I love China. It is what I had looked for in Japan. Madness, change, reality – I loved all of it!

About a relationship with a man, he was faltering and she realized she had to let him go as a lover, but wanted to keep his friendship:

I want him to teach my kids how to fish in the North Woods of Wisconsin, and I want to build a fountain with him that has a pebble path of chinese design.

For years she kept moving to cold climates and was going to leave Japan for Vermont for Graduate School, and spend yet another couple of winters in the snow:

God, I will spend at least one whole winter of my life in a warm climate- it’s on my life list even.

Something else about her, which I admired:

I love change.

These are simple words. She had said many things to me in letters and in conversation, things that were thought provoking and life changing. While in Japan, she read the entire English dictionary so that she could know more words, and have a greater grasp of our language. She did this while learning Japanese. Yes, these are simple words of hers that I have copied on this page, but for me these words are important, because they make me think of what will never be: she will never have children to take to the North Woods of Wisconsin, she will never build a fountain, and she will never spend one full winter in a warm climate. I wonder what else was on her life list. It doesn’t matter how amazing you are or kind or mean death takes us all. One thing I know about Sue is that she came close to doing everything on her life list, she did more on her list in her short life then some of us do when we are given 80 years to live. I should think about that more often.

She had no fear and if she did she would force herself to face it no matter the discomfort. She was brave and beautiful from her core to her surface. I miss her.

Hold me closer tiny dancer…


    • I have a couple of CD’s that she made, I’d love to have a copy of her singing on the DVD and I can send you copies of the music I have. I miss her all the time.

  1. Your writing, photos, and the bits of her letters you included are lovely, and make me smile. Thank you.

    Sue, we called her Shue, was a light in our family- the first person to hold my daughter Wren after she was born, come on a family camp trip and sleep in a home-made stick shelter way off in the woods (because my husband, Andrew dared her to!) , bake me a “grapefruit cake”, hike and walk at whatever hours I requested, still show up for a family dinner party when we all had pink eye, and, amidst all our worldly goods on front lawn, play guitar and sing to us late into the night, ready for the yard sale the following morning.

    The magic memories go on and on.

    Almost four years now since Shue passed. (Privately, I think of it as me getting a degree in “How to Lose a Shue”) It is only now that I can move, beyond grief, to begin to write out some of the details of our friendship. Given the amount of energy she and I spent talking about “change” and “process”, constant quandries for both of us, I cannot help but think that she would approve of these reflections.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your memories. She certainly changed my life, and taught me to appreciate process. As much as I wish she was still here in my physical life, to be in your physical life, and in all the lives she touched, we are all lucky and blessed to have had the pleasure to know her. Your memories made me smile. Thank you.

  2. Adriena – I finally found you! I’ve been looking… This is such a wonderful post about Sue. I feel like I know more about her now, seeing her through your eyes. Thank you. I would love to stay in touch… xo

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