One of my oldest friends died this weekend. I’d like to tell you how we met.
Brian Kokke and I shared a few things in common: Bad backs, bad speech, and very good imaginations. A fairly small grade school and similar Individual Education Programs meant that we were often pulled out of class to see the same specialists together. My back was only bad enough to worry specialists, his was bad enough to require a brace. Time in the swimming pool was a release for him, without the brace his body was as free as his mind was all the time. Under his guidance, our otherwise mundane physical theoropy came alive with sirens and mermaids.
Man, he had it tough. Grade school is not a nice place for someone with a speech impediment and a bad back. But man, his imagination lead us so many other places we’d rather be. Everyone needed a friend like him.
Through Junior High into High School a lot changed, but not enough. We’d sit next to each other on the bus, and the kids in the seats behind and in front of us would start teasing us about the fantastic worlds we would build. I started to withdraw and back away, but that was not Brian’s style. He taught me the basics of American Sign Language, and we slowly, clumsily continued our stories. We modified how we expressed our imagination, but he was determined we not back away from it. He was, of course, right. Even if we had much to hide, we had nothing to be ashamed of.
One of the great joys of social media for me has been our ability to get back in touch again over the past few years. Again, a lot has changed, but not enough. My friend, who I met in physical therapy, found a light dancing on stage as Miss Delight. Brian never grew tired of telling me about her family. They found in Brian the same determination I did on the school-bus, the same way of connecting through those who would shout us down.
That gift of connection is a joy whenever it’s found, and the connections Brian made will continue to be a blessing to us all for a long, long time.