When I think about the simple goodness that is in all of us, I think about Blake. When I think about what is at the core of who we are and what connects us, I think about Blake. When I wonder about how we can ever manage to get along and show love to those so different from us, I think about Blake.
I grew up in a very small town. For those who have this shared experience, you know what "small town" means. From a young age, you are arranged with a small number of children who you end up spending the next 13 years of your life with. Such was my life in a tiny prairie town, something I bemoaned as a child and fondly look back on as an adult. In a school with little more than a hundred children total, those dozen or so you spend everyday with become confidants, nemeses, brothers, and sisters, out of both necessity and proximity: if you didn’t make friends, you simply wouldn’t have friends, so you learned to befriend everyone. Everyone is in the same boat – our commonalities in many ways were limited to the fact that we happened to be born into the same area, and we tried our best to find common ground.
Blake was always a wild child. Always slightly smaller than the rest of his peers, what he may have lacked in height back then he made up for with pure fire. Even at age five, it was clear that this boy was going to be an untamable spirit.
As we grew, Blake and I didn’t always see eye to eye. We were almost complete opposites. I was what you might call a poetic oaf. The brooding type. Read too much Keats, listened to too many Smiths albums, wrote shitty poetry about boys that didn’t like me. Blake struggled somewhat academically, though even I could see he was an absolute genius when it came to machines. The kid could rip apart and rebuild anything. Get him in a shop with tools and a broken thing, he’d fix it. Get him in a physics class and ask him to complete an equation based on the fixes he just made on the shop floor, he’d probably just pull down his pants and fart on your text book.
While he didn’t necessarily fit in to the traditional school setting, a few things were very clear about Blake: He was a mechanical genius, he could fart on command, and he likely had the biggest heart of anyone I grew up with. He could be pretty awful sometimes (what sixteen-year-old isn’t?), but beneath it all he was a human who had genuine love and interest in those around him. Despite everything else, it was the most noticeable thing about him.
My favorite (of so many) Blake moments, the one that strikes me again and again, happened some afternoon in Grade 11 as I was sitting in the hallway, pouring ridiculous teenage hormone-infused verse into a black Hilroy coil bound notebook. Blake approached me and sat down.
“Whatcha doing, Sheena?”
“Oh, nothing,” I replied, closing the book and attempting to hide my embarrassment. “Just writing some stuff.”
“What are you writing?” he asked.
Shrugging, a barrage of awkward guttural sputtering noises escaped my mouth before I could finally muster, “Oh, you know, just some poems and stories and stuff, it’s dumb really.”
Blake cocked his head inquisitively. “You really like writing, huh? You’ve always been so good at it! Like, even when we were just kids.”
“Yeah, I do,” I replied, almost sheepishly. Writing poetry was geeky, wasn't it? It wasn’t cool like fixing an engine or shooting a deer or punching a kid who wrote it.
“You know, that’s really cool, Sheena!” Blake chimed. “It’s like…how you are with words and stuff, I am with engines and tractors and stuff!”
Wow. I looked up at him. “Yes, Blake, that’s exactly it!”
That moment, while perhaps at the time lacking in deeper profundity, gave me great insight into the human spirit. It enlightens me to this day. If we can strip apart our differences, we can communicate to connect. And if we can connect to one another, we can create bonds that are stronger than any differences. Keep it simple and you can keep it true. This is the greatest kind of friendship.
I was two months pregnant when I got the news. I was already showing, and nervous about the idea of being forced into revealing news of my own. On September 27th, 2008, Blake was killed in a motorcycle accident. It had been a few years since I had seen him, but it struck me as though I had been told while sitting in that same hallway from years before.
My graduating class, the once-thirteen but now-twelve of us, gathered along with hoards of others from the community to say goodbye to Blake. We laughed and cried together. We added to our lifelong though estranged bond. Far too soon and every time we would gather from now on, we would always be one less.
We had no more in common now than we did when we parted ways after Grade 12, except for this person we all had shared our lives with in different ways as we grew together (and apart): from small dirty-faced children to adults who were now teachers and truckers, engineers and farmers, nurses and Medieval English majors who were two months pregnant.
And Blake’s giant heart would be proud of us all. Because that’s just the way he was.
Today, I imagine introducing him to my kids, talking about my job, my passion for the community, and of course, my desire to write. To these things, I imagine his response, “That’s so fucking sweet, Sheens. You love words like I love my Harley!”
I think about him every autumn. And I think about him on his birthday (four days after my own son, who in utero attended his wake). And I think about him when I hear an AC/DC song. And I think about him when I see a young guy on a motorcycle. And I think about him when I hear a great dirty limerick (so few and far between these days). And I think about him when, in my daily life, I am challenged to connect with someone so very different than myself, remembering that years ago, a kid who just as easily could have stolen my notebook and flashed me his ass, took the time to listen, make the connection, and be my friend.
For that, and for Blake, I am eternally grateful.
If you're looking to connect with someone who seems different than you, but you're not sure where to begin, here are some icebreaker questions to get the conversation going. You can also snag a pack of Holstee Reflection Cards if you find yourself in unexpected situations with new people - you never know what they can teach you.
“Sheena often uses inappropriate humor and seeks attention in negative ways.” – Sheena’s 9th grade report card.
Sheena Greer was raised on a farm on a heavy diet of George Carlin, Patsy Cline and William Blake. She swung into the grown-up world with the stubborn-hearted idea that being a girl was a moot point. She currently employs her inappropriate humor as a writer, and helps nonprofit organizations seek attention in positive ways by consulting with them on their communications, fundraising and strategy. She lives in Saskatoon with her husband, her four children, her embarrassing obsession with gas station ham sandwiches, and a pretty decent collection of Scotch.
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