My good friend Michael Norris generously gave me permission to publish what follows:
Until yesterday, all I knew was that her name tag said “Amanda.” And when we spoke, she answered to it.
Our world is an incredibly beautiful place. We can swim with dolphins, not just in a Hilton resort swimming pool but here, if we want, in the ocean, close enough to reach out and touch. And the music. And the artistry. And the literature. And the food and drink. The beauty lives all around us.
On today’s ride, while I pedaled my bicycle around our little hill for a few hours, twenty other riders offered encouragement to me, and they each called out my name as they rode by. Imagine. My name.
The world is also dark and unforgiving, where hope is an illusion and a bygone notion and where children are abused and mistreated. It’s a place where hatred runs rampant, and compassion has long since been abandoned. It is not easy, this humanity thing. And, for some, the darkness and the hard edge are especially relentless.
Rob Lowe is certainly not mentor material, but on his recent book tour he made an observation which seemed unusually profound: He said that we never really evolve beyond the people that we were as teenagers. The fears, anxieties, and insecurities of our youth become baggage that we lug around all of our lives, and the baggage can get very weighty. We never outgrow it or run fast enough to elude it.
Amanda was not prone to complaining, and she worked hard at being a good person. When she had the early morning shift at the health food store where I met her, she would drive in to work with a friend. When that car was no longer available, she commuted on the bus. This added many idle hours to her day, but she bore it well. And whenever I saw her, she smiled, but the smile always seemed only half complete. It was as if she were trying to remember what it meant to be happy.
Yesterday, I learned that she had been abused as a child and that her family had not been there for her and that she had been very alone at a time when a shoulder would have been the least that she needed. But she bore it, somehow, and she endured. She “endeavored to persevere.”
I learned many years ago, when my son decided to become a football player, that everyone gets knocked down, but not everyone gets right back up. Later I became a coach, and each year during the first two weeks of conditioning and training, we taught the boys about what was to come. We had a few new players each year whose proud fathers would show up to the conditioning practice every day, recounting their sons’ prior athletic achievements and accomplishments. I always tried to temper their pride and enthusiasm by telling them to wait until we put the pads on because it would only be then, when every kid got knocked down over and over and over, that we would find out which ones had the core quality they would need to play football: Which of those kids would get right back up?
You can help with that as a father and a coach, but you cannot really teach it. And you find that some people just get tired of getting back up.
Last Saturday, Amanda made a fatal choice. It was entirely voluntary, and considered, and thought out. She simply decided that she did not want to get back up anymore.
During the last many years I have visited Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach during the Christmas holidays. I have developed a relationship with the support staff there, and have been allowed to visit the kids and their parents. I always try to spend extra time on the pediatric cancer floor, where the kids have tubes hooked up to their arms or are going through incredibly painful treatment. Their parents have set up cots next to them so they can sleep there at night. The only things those kids ask for, and all that their parents dream of, is one more day. To breathe in one more morning, to continue to live in a world where dolphins swim and rainbows come to life.
I try to remember those kids and their parents whenever things get especially difficult in my own life. This is their gift to me.
Spoken in another way, our lives are truly not our own. Amanda had no idea how much the rest of us needed her to carry on, and how invested each of us were in her future well being. We did not have the chance to tell her that because last Saturday, she said goodbye. Worse, she said it alone, as she had been alone for so long, despite being surrounded by friends and family.
I know all this because yesterday I found the handmade, xeroxed signs posted around her former store. “RIP” they said. Her last name was Rios. Amanda Rios.