#829 Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone

big-feetI met Chris Kim in September, 2005 in Boston.

A tiny Korean guy with thin eyes hidden behind thick glasses under a well-worn and faded ball cap, he looked kind of mousy under awkwardly baggy clothes and behind a soft voice. And even though neither of us drank much, we met at a bar — me speed-sucking a gin and tonic through a needle-thin straw, him warming a well-nursed beer and occasionally taking baby sips.

When he mentioned he was from Boston, I asked about the Red Sox and he played along well enough. “Big win last night,” he offered cautiously. “Maybe still have a chance at the playoffs?” Of course, that launched me on a rant about the bullpen and whether Curt Shilling had enough steam for another big run. He nodded on, listening intently, asking genuine and serious questions, and letting our friendship take root over sports, of all things. Of course, he never watched the stuff, but was nice enough to let me talk mindlessly about it all night.

grand-canyonFull of wry smiles, awkward pauses, and mock-serious faces, Chris was a complex, fascinating, creative person who grew into a remarkably close friend during the two years I lived in the US. He got excited about little things, like caramelizing onions perfectly for an hour on low heat, getting randomly selected to fill out a survey of his radio habits, or learning a new keyboard shortcut in Microsoft Excel.

But it wasn’t the bar scene that helped our friendship bloom. It was the car scene.

hoover-damYeah, when I showed up to school on our first winter morning shivering to the bone in a flimsy nylon coat, my hair wet, my face dripping, Chris asked where I lived and if I needed a ride the next day. As I was at that moment toweling my face off with a fistful of balled up Kleenex, I took him up on it right away. (Lucky for me Chris had signed up to be a senior student in an undergrad residence way off campus, spending his free time for two years chaperoning social events, holding heads above toilets, and editing two or three resumes a night on a steady clip.)

malibuAnyway, he began picking me up every morning for the next two years, probably at least a couple hundred rides, never once accepting money for gas because, as he said, “I’m going that way anyway.” When other students heard about my taxi service, they got in on it, too. It started with a “Hey Chris, if there’s a blizzard tomorrow, can I catch a lift?”, and turned into Chris emailing three or four of us each night, giving us the Bus Schedule, as he called it, timed precisely to the minute for the next morning. And so it went — us piling into his car after he’d spent the first few minutes warming it up for us, tightly blanketed in fat mittens and his trademark big blue hat.

golden-gate-bridgeTwo years later, in Spring, 2007, Chris and I went on a three week roadtrip with our friend Ty, which I’ve mentioned before here and here. Not too long after the trip began, we started joking about how much Chris was text-messaging his friends. It was non-stop, how in touch he was constantly with people. “Jake says hi,” he’d deadpan, his back facing the Grand Canyon, surrounded by people all looking the other way. Eventually, he made a joke of it, letting us take photos of him obliviously focused on his cell phone in front of every big site we stopped at. He absolutely loved the gag and laughed wildly before and after each photo.

chicago-millennium-parkLast year I nervously started up this page, tentatively dipping my toe into cyberspace where anyone could see. Chris of course adopted his Mexican half-brother pseudonym San Carlos and peppered us with comments of support from the get-go. On #1000 Broccoflower, he wrote “My policy is to avoid all foods that look to be from outer space. Eggplant. Mushrooms. And, apparently, broccoflower.” On #885 Paying for something with exact change he wrote “I save all my pennies in my car. And then, the next time I do McDonald’s drive-through, I fling all the pennies into the server’s face. … No, actually, I put the pennies into the Ronald McDonald’s House box right underneath the window.” On #859 Playing with a baby and not having to change its diaper he wrote “I don’t mind changing my nephews diapers. It only got weird when they began to talk. Awkward!”

cn-towerI loved his sense of humor and his way about himself. I loved how he laughed, frequently, at little things, and got so excited about tiny details most people overlooked. Chris and I spoke three or four times a week over the past year, in ten or fifteen minute snippets usually, but sometimes for an hour or two. He’d tell me about the sourdough bread he was going to bake that day, the elaborate meal he had planned for friends coming for dinner, or the New York Times article he read that I should check out. I would ask him for ideas for this page — he had plenty — and occasionally go on long rants about sports.

Chris died suddenly this past week. He was 32.

No amount of the usual closing rhyming couplets or fist-to-the-sky proclamations are going to bring him back. But I know he’s in a peaceful place and would want us all to just be happy, keep plugging, and enjoy our lives as full as we can. So thank you, Chris. You’ll always inspire me.

And you’ll always be so incredibly awesome.


— Update on February 18, 2013  —

Hi everyone,

It’s been some time since I originally posted this on February 16, 2009.

As you can tell from the post, Chris was a huge supporter of me and of 1000 Awesome Things. I wish he could have watched his neverending encouragement and inspiring focus on little things push this site towards Webby Awards, bestselling books, and an incredible awesome movement around the world.

Sadly Chris died just weeks before any of that started happening.

Looking back, I feel Chris’s love and energy and friendship transcend through what we’ve accomplished together. A picture of Chris is the only one of me or anybody I know in The Book of Awesome. I’ve spoken about him in my TED Talk. And I’ve had so many people chat with me at book events about a friend they had… who also took their life after battling mental illness. And what that friend meant to them. And what that friend did for them.

For me Chris will always be a big part of everything awesome.

It is so hard to lose people we love.


22 thoughts on “#829 Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone

  1. I remember reading this years ago, and I just reread it all again and was just as inspired, touched, humbled and invested in it as before. In retrospect, it is so awesome to see how the sad things in life become a part of you, help you grow, and push you to love more. Neil, you are awesome, this blog is awesome and it has been an awesome part of my life for years now. Thank you!

  2. I, too, remember this post from 2009, and it has reverberated with me as powerfully as it did the first time. This is such a beautiful tribute to an incredible friend.

    RIP Chris, and stay awesome.

  3. I remember this post from the first time around. It really made me think then and it really makes me think now. So sorry for your loss of such a beautiful friendship.

  4. Ah, Neil. I’m crying.
    Thanks for this wonderful tribute to your friend. At least we’ll always have the memories of those awesome people who passed before us.

  5. Thank you for sharing…again. I missed it the first time around, but I wanted to tell you that it is a beautiful post. And it is a fantastic reminder to tell those around us how much they mean to us.

  6. Thank you for sharing your friend with us, Neil. The joy you’ve given the world in the form of Awesome is a loving tribute to him. Peace.

  7. neil, salamat (that’s thank you in filipino). i get your blog in my inbox everyday. some days, i read them, some days, i dont. but i never erase them. this one, i skimmed through, saw that it was long, then clicked the back button. but for some reason, i perfunctorily went back and this time read through it, catching myself reading slower as i was scrolling down. what can i say? i. am- glad. i. read. it. you’re lucky to have crhis. love his quiet, un-attention-getting, helping, sharing generously character. i don’t know him but reading about him makes me feel good about life and friends. thanks. salamat chris!

  8. Such a tender, loving post. You were a constant friend to Chris (and vice versa) and I’m sure he was grateful to have you in his life (v-v).““`

  9. I love this, again and again and again…..
    It’s very near and dear to my heart for SO many reasons and makes me think A LOT!
    I believe Chris is not that far away and sees all!
    Bless you, always.

  10. I remember his posts on here as well as this one the first time around.

    I can’t say that I’ve lost a close friend. I’ve lost friends and family, but still not really anyone I’m really close too. Distant Aunts, friends I went to school with. The hardest one I think was losing Shane. It was the first year out of high school and he wrecked his truck, went over a bridge and into the river. Autopsy showed that the reason he wrecked was a seizure. He wasn’t prone to seizures. I hung out with Shane. We were friends, but not great friends. He was the only one I had danced with at my junior prom and I introduced him to his girlfriend. His funeral was hard. I still think of Shane and remember his laugh. He’s been gone almost 8 years now.

  11. I rarely feel the need to actually comment on blogs, although I almost always think about what I would say. However, I have to tell you that this is the most awesome post about an awesome person I’ve ever read!

  12. This is an amazing tribute to your friend, Neil. It seems like he was a very awesome guy, and I’m really sorry to hear that his gone. I like those texting photos, by the way. It seems like he had I great sense of humour.

  13. What a lovely tribute to your friend. You obviously learned and grew and gained so much as a result of your friendship. It’s wonderful that you can share his story with us. Bless you.

  14. Its a coincidence that i stumbled on your TED Talk-and then this reposted blog of yours-as I was thinking of one of my closest friends who I lost due to terminal cancer.I dream about him often-full of life,keen to live -and nothing can bring him back.Its been 7 years now and I still remember all the things we shared..Thanks for giving words to my thoughts.

  15. Thank you, Neil, for sharing this with us. 1000 Awesome Things means a lot to me. I’ve laughed and cried. More often laughed. Today I cried. Both are good.

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