This morning, I woke to a text informing me that one of my closest friends from university passed away yesterday morning.
Ashley was one of the first people I ever met at University College London when we both started studying law in 2000. We also lived in the same dorms in Camden Town, and we became good friends. And over the years, though he went on to practice law and I didn’t, though I moved to the US and he stayed in Europe, we made sure to touch base once in a while, just to check in.
Last year, we were finally catching up on a long-overdue chat, and he shared with me that he’d been battling a brain tumor for the better part of the last decade, beginning shortly after we graduated in 2003. He hadn’t really told very many people. He said didn’t want to be a burden on people; he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him or to treat him any differently just because he was sick.
We spoke in November. He had just gone through a particularly difficult episode and was back recovering in hospital. His sister Shardi served as our translator because he was on morphine to fight the intense pain. He expressed his gratitude that we were able to talk. I told him not to strain himself, that we’d talk again when he was better, that I’d see him next time I was in the UK, or he could come visit me in DC. He said he’d always wanted to come to DC.
That was the last time we talked.
I’ll always remember Ash as the life and soul of the party, always full of energy. To some he was brash and in-your-face; to others he was confident and self-assured. To some he was obstinate and hard-headed; to others he was a man of conviction. I knew him as fiercely, fiercely loyal–you always knew that Ash had your back. I remember that one of his favorite songs was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” that he knew the words back to front and inside out and had no problem rapping it in your face. I remember him getting our gang into and then out of trouble. You could never accuse him of not living life.
Over the years, we had several conversations about faith. Ash never adhered to a certain religion, though he always expressed his support for my faith. In one conversation this last year, he said, “I just think it’s great when someone believes something and then actually lives it out.” He was about as excited for me becoming a pastor and getting ordained as anyone–even more so than many of my Christian friends. He followed my email updates and even listened to my sermons on occasion. We even got to pray together during one of our conversations last year.
Somehow–I don’t know how–I hope and pray that I get to see him someday. The world has lost a colorful character, someone who took his knocks in life and learned many, many lessons, someone who mellowed out and grew up. Someone I call friend.
Ash, buddy, I miss you already. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Horatio (Hamlet, V.ii)