My Gift From Above
"Life is a gift. Many times, we don't look at it like that because we tend to focus on the downs instead of the ups but life is just that. Ups and downs. That's what makes it so special," Clara picked at her nails nervously as she glanced down at the few notecards she was holding.
Concern washed over me as I watched her. She nervously glanced over at me and I gave her a supportive smile.
She continued. "The average human lives seventy-eight years. It sounds like a long time, but in reality, it'll go by in the blink of an eye. Twenty-eight years of those seventy-eight years are spent sleeping, ten and a half years we spend working our jobs..." Clara's voice faded out as I focused on her face.
She'd been through a lot. Diagnosed with cancer just two months ago was hard. Especially when she found out on Christmas Eve. My fists clenched as I remembered answering her phone call.
"Can you come over?" she'd asked, her voice sounding off.
"Sure," I had answered, sensing something.
"Come through my window. Don't let my parents see or talk to you," her voice had cracked. I had quickly hurried over and held her in my arms as she sobbed uncontrollably.
We'd always been friends, and I wanted to believe we would always be friends but I knew that one day, cancer would win.
"Every day is composed if 86,400 seconds. Every day, you choose what you do with that time, that gift-- a masterpiece," she laughed and for a second it sounded bitter. "Take it from me. We take life for granted when we should appreciate every second-- good or bad-- of it. Life is short. It goes by in a blink of an eye, and you're left there, at the end of your life, wondering where it went and what you did."
She was no longer nervous. This was a topic she was passionate about. I smiled at her and she continued strongly.
"But, to help you understand how important life really is, let's just pretend you only had a year left to live," her eyes fogged over with tears and I looked down at my desk.
I wouldn't cry.
I couldn't cry.
I needed to be strong for Clara.
"A year to do everything you ever wanted to do," she said. "A year to grow old with that special person, a year to experience everything you were going to experience if you could live to seventy-eight."
Mr. Daniels wiped his eye quickly and looked down at his notebook. He knew about Clara's story and he knew it was all coming from her heart.
"A lot can happen in a year," she continued. "You could pass that big test, you could graduate, you could get engaged or married, you could start a family, you could get an awesome promotion, you could live. "See, the thing that makes life so special is that you don't need seventy-eight years to live. You don't even need one year. You just need one day, with that special person," she smiled as her eyes found mine. "There are so many things we take for granted. Let's not do that anymore."
She stepped away from the whiteboard and handed Mr. Daniels a copy of her speech just as the bell rang.
"Class dismissed," he declared, his voice shaky.
I followed Clara out of the classroom and fell into step next to her.
"You were great in there!" I complimented her.
She smiled, her beautiful eyes shining brightly. "Thanks!"
A comfortable silence settled over us as we wound our way through the crowded hallways to our lockers. As I twisted the dial on my lock back in forth, I glanced over at Clara.
Clara had been my lifelong friend. We grew up next to each other and we always had the others back.
She grabbed her books out and shut her locker, turning to me. "Hey, I need to tell you something."
Worry shot through me. Was the cancer worse? Was she gonna die? Did I do something wrong?
"What?" I asked, my nervousness showing.
"Thanks," she gave a weak smile. "You've always been for me. Even though this whole cancer mess. It means a lot to me to know that you care enough to stick with me through it."
"What did you think I would do?" I asked, leaning up against my locker. "Abandon you?"
"In all honesty, I don't know," she shrugged. "Most people just shirk me like I have the plague."
I nodded slowly. "Sticking by you was the only thing I could do. Watching you go through that-- this-- it was painful. I wanted to do something more to help you, to comfort you, to make you feel better."
I ran a hand through my hair as she looked me in the eye.
"What more could you have done?" she asked.
I looked down at her and something welled up inside me. I knew exactly what it was. Love. Clara was kinda my everything. I'd drop anything at a moment's notice to help her. I hated watching her cry. It felt like my heart was being stabbed every time I saw her body shake from each sob.
Just do it. Tell her already!
I can't. The other part of me argued. It'd ruin everything.
But it could also make it better. I pointed out.
I'm just gonna do it. My heart picked up as I leaned down, framed her face with my hands, and kissed her.
She froze, her eyes wide and for a moment I felt like I had ruined everything but then she kissed me back, her free hand pulling me closer to her. I felt her smile as I pulled away for a second but she instantly pulled me back.
"Don't you dare regret this, Joshy," she whispered, looking into my eyes.
"I wasn't planning on it," I answered, kissing her again.
It was wonderful. She dropped her book on the floor just to pull me closer, her arms winding around my neck, fingers wrapping into my hair. The bell rang and we pulled apart.
"You really are something," I said, smiling like a moron.
She smiled. "This is one of those moment's that make life really special."
"Clara was an amazing person," I said. I felt my throat grow tight as I continued. "And we all loved her but it was only matter of time until she would leave us."
My eyes flickered to the casket a few feet away from me. I didn't want to think about who was in it.
"She was a gift," I lost it and the tears flowed freely. "She was a wonderful friend, daughter, sister, person... she meant a lot to me."
I couldn't look at her family sitting in the front row. Clara had wanted me to give her eulogy, to say the final goodbye.
"And it's sad to let her go but I know she's better now. She's not feeling anything anymore. She's in heaven under the comforting wing of the Heavenly Father and I can say that with confidence. And as she looks down at us, I hope she smiles, knowing we will forever remember her."
I stepped down from the pulpit and walked over to the casket, a yellow rose in my hand. I rubbed the tip of my finger up the stem until I came to a thorn. I clamped my eyes shut for a second before looking at her face.
She looked so... empty. Her mouth was in an unusual line, not the familiar smile that I loved so much. Her eyes were closed, hiding her beautiful blue eyes, sparkling with mischief, fun, and love. I reached inside the casket and squeezed her hand.
"Clara Walden, you were a gift from God. You made life special, you gave it meaning. You taught me to be brave, to fight for what I thought was right, to stand up for myself and those I love, and most importantly... you taught me to love."
A sob came from the front row and dug my fingernails into my palm to keep from breaking down completely.
"Clara, I love you," I said. "And I will always remember the good times we had along with the bad ones. Life is a gift, and so were you."
I rubbed my thumb over the top of her hand and watched as everything flashed before me.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
"You were a gift from God," I repeated. "And I will forever be thankful to Him for you."
I stepped back as a line formed behind me. People walked past me, saying their goodbyes. It was all I could do to not push them out of the way and grab Clara by the shoulders and shake her, pleading for her to wake up. I knew it would be in vain.
Tears clouded my vision again and I made my way to the back door. I stepped outside and sunk down onto the ground in a daze, tears streaming down my face. I tucked my head between my knees and cried. I cried for Clara, my gift from above.