Ken Nelson makes a post commemorating the 8th anniversary of the loss of his stepson Ryan. This is personal to me, as Ryan was a friend of mine. In fact, although Ken has become a friend of the show, he was my father’s best friend. The first time I ever contacted him directly was to write him and his wife a letter when I learned of Ryan’s death, telling the following story.
Ryan and I went to high school in the same little town in northwest Kansas. I was not cool, not popular and kind of an outcast in this school of 250 kids across all 4 years. There was a segment of the population, the tough guys, the “hoods”, who really hated me and weren’t shy in acting on that. Ryan was not really a hood, because he was too sweet a kid for that but he was friends with the hoods. I recall very clearly the day in art class when I was getting hassled by some of those guys. Ryan stood up for me, got between me and the tough guys and told them to leave me alone. High school politics are very tenuous, and doing this sort of thing can easily change your status. Sticking up for an outcast is often a fast ticket to being an outcast yourself, so he bore some risk himself by sticking his neck out for me. Because he did, my life instantly got easier. I got hassled less, people gave me a break which made me less twitchy which made me less of an outcast. One brief act by one person started a chain reaction that made all kinds of things better for me.
When I think of random acts of kindness I have received in my life, this is the first one that comes to mind. It is also some of my greatest guilt. After Ryan and his family moved away we traded one set of letters and then I never again communicated with him for the rest of his life. I never expressed to him my gratitude for making my miserable teenage years better. If you hear me or read me being weepy and touchy-feely about telling people that you love them and that you appreciate them, this is why. You can lose from your life anyone at anytime, so never leave this unsaid.
Goodbye Ryan. I wish I talked to you more.