The last deed I did for my best friend Dan was to carry his coffin to the cemetery. He was light, his crippled body disproportionately small compared to the size of his heart. He had far less physical and mental ability than most of us, but he gave those around him far more love and joy.
Dan was 64 when he died. His life was one of many tragedies: his brain was injured by illness, he was almost burned to death when he was 8, he witnessed his brother die in a sledding accident, and was mentally slow and often misunderstood. However, in the last 10 years of his life, Dan moved to the Darvell Community, where slowly, a change took place. He became more peaceful, more able to trust others, more able to love and be loved.
Though always unreligious, Dan felt burdened by his past life and by the unwise choices he had made. In the last few years he was able to find forgiveness and to experience complete peace. While growing inwardly healthier, outwardly he deteriorated, slowly becoming unable to walk or talk. This did not prevent him radiating his newfound joy and peace to everyone around.
I never held a full conversation with Dan in which I could understand what he was saying, but the message of joy and childlike love he brought to me each time we met was more than words could say anyway. His wonderful sense of humor kept him going through many hard patches, and helped him accept the clumsy and inadequate help I tried to offer him. Buttoning up his shirt wrong would cause him to laugh so hard his false teeth came out! Accidentally kicking his slippers under the bed made him collapse with laughter.
Dan was always free to be who God made him. When he was cross, he let you know. When he was sad, he would cry. When he was happy, he would laugh. And when I was with Dan, I felt that I was free to do the same. This is why I loved Dan so much.
There are many people like Dan in this world. Unfortunately, most do not experience the happy last years that Dan did. Many are abused, used as cheap labor, or discarded to psychiatric hospitals and care homes. Many babies are aborted because the world frowns on less able people. Yet I can truly say that Dan was a more complete human than I am, that he did more for others than I do, and that his love and kindness to those around him was more unconditional than mine.
As I shoveled the dirt into the grave, I had to praise God for Dan’s life. While for most of his life he was rejected and undervalued, Dan fulfilled the plan God had for him, and so died in complete peace. Dan will always be an example to me, and always be my best friend.