Lessons of gratitude
November 23, 2011
Billy Rieger and I were classmates and friends at elementary school, junior high school and high school, and continued our friendship through our 50th birthdays. I wrote this essay in his honor a few days after his death.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week and enter the Christmas season, let us all remember that “it truly is a wonderful life.”
“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” – Norman Maclean
Extraordinary lives in progress are often unrecognized, frequently misunderstood and rarely comprehended.
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We may think, individually, to possess a unique perspective of someone … a bond or insight born of progressive events and moments shared over years to which there are no other parties. We may come to rely upon such friendships as anchors in safe harbors dredged by decades of mutual experience, and come to accept and eventually love the imperfections of our dearest brethren nearly in step with the unmasking of our own.
Our lives are touched – and often altered – through more brief encounters … people that somehow appear in the midst of crisis or change or choice and clear our teary eyes so we might see the proper road before us, however uncertain. Later, we reflect and remember these individuals, and often call them angels.
And all the while in myriad times and eras and stages of our lives, with thousands of interactions and influences, we each look back in still moments. Here we generate needed fuel to propel us forward with new insight, more compassion and greater hope. We each consider our personal inventories of friends and loved ones, and the angels that have appeared along the way that have made real the concept of higher power.
Through it all, we come to know and accept that each answered prayer must yield another series of unanswered questions – each progressive step in pursuit of greater understanding revealing yet a new horizon of unknown wilderness. We begin to see the very thin boundaries drawn to separate hope and bewilderment, and how the fine lines of black-on-white so easily merge to seas of gray.
Billy Rieger lived a life rooted in white, spent mostly in gray and tragically ending in a moment of black. Along the way, he made real two words of instruction from his mother – spread joy – and did so in spectacular fashion.
Billy was the perfectly flawed angel among us.
He defined the meaning of humanity by showing so many how to live, how to fight, how to care, how to engage, how to laugh and how to love.
And in the end, he exposed his hidden reality, which now instructs us to unite in his memory to avert future tragedy, inspire those fighting disease, and spread joy in the conduct of our lives.
Daniel J. Reid
Grand Haven, Mich.