Diamond Christy moved into Douglass Homes with her two children in a pilot program that takes empty housing units, renovates them, and moves the most vulnerable families into them. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)

I just learned that a friend of mine recently passed away. This unexpected news was unsettling, a reaction that, I’m certain, would be felt by anyone else receiving such information. While we did not know each other long, we developed a friendship over the many commonalities we shared. It did not take long to discover that we were both Towson Tigers, despite the fact that I attended Towson State University and he is a more recent graduate of TU. We reminisced about our participation in campus life and faculty members we remembered. After graduating we both achieved success in our respective fields of study.

Over time our conversations moved on to other topics — music, cars, travel, family. Like me, my friend liked to talk in analogies, usually relating a life event to a film title. He was quick to give me a movie recommendation, usually in a state of disbelief over a film I had never seen. We compared notes on our visits to Ireland and discussed future travel plans. We talked about our marriages and families and offered each other advice.

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I regret that none of these conversations took place over an evening out. Despite the commonalities we shared, our life journeys have led us to very different places. I met my friend while I was volunteering at a shelter for the homeless, where he was a resident. My tasks as a volunteer range from folding blankets to having conversations with clients about their progress with employment, housing and therapy. And sometimes I have the pleasure of just talking and learning the life stories of new and interesting people. My volunteer role keeps me from driving clients to a restaurant for an evening out, but that never stopped me from setting that goal for my friend and me when his circumstances changed.

My friend suffered from an abusive childhood and mental illness. He also suffered the consequences of some poor life choices. I admired and respected him for meeting with the success that he did while dealing with challenges that, to me, seem insurmountable at best. Indeed, after our first meeting he struck me as a man very similar to me, someone who could be my co-worker, neighbor or friend. And I realized that, with just a few twists or turns, my circumstances could be similar to his.

I share this story to honor my friend and express the gratitude I feel having crossed paths with him. I’m grateful for the time we had together and for the TU ski cap he gave me after our first meeting. I also hope that I am doing my own small part to raise up the conversations we have about our fellow citizens who suffer with mental illness and its effects. Everyone wants a life well lived. Some of us have a harder time figuring out how to do that and need some support. I thank my friend for those valuable lessons.

Paul Norfolk, Eldersburg

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