birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Your New Favorite Person

This is Matthew. He's one of my very best friends. He just turned 30 this past weekend, and he celebrated on his inherited farmland a few counties over. We've known one another since college, but he went to a different college than I did.

We met as volunteer staff members for a week-long leadership camp for high school students. At the camp we build up the student's confidence, help them, through team building, to foster strong relationships with one another, and allow them to have deep discussions with one another about the issues that matter to them: racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, privilege, immigration, religious oppression. Then we spend the end of the week working on conflict resolution and advocacy techniques. I attended the camp when I was in high school, and so did Matthew. We just didn't go the same year, so we didn't know one another.

Graduates of the program can come back to serve on staff after their first year of college (or equivalent length of time--we know people choose different life routes, and all are accepted). Matthew and I met Matthew's first year on staff. I had already been on staff the previous year, but I had never met anyone who seemed to have been made for this job. He was smart, passionate, understanding, a terrific listener, rugged and tough, but also nurturing and gentle, and just super cool--someone teens of all backgrounds would want to befriend (or be).

I was first struck my Matthew's energy. It was lively and fun and comforting and calming and mischievous and full of light. He was handsome, too, with bright blue eyes and soft, curly brown hair that had a summery golden hue. He wore bracelets on his ankle and flannel shirts and walked around everywhere barefoot. I liked being barefoot, too, and we both really hit it off talking over environmentalism, sustainability, spirituality. Matthew is and was, even then, sort of like a shaman, a spiritual guru in the earthly way. He celebrates the mind, the soul, the body, and the divine in all of us.

He's the most like the lived Song of Myself a person could ever be. More transcendentalist than Emerson, more body-positive than Whitman, more sustainable than Thoreau. And he's real. He's human and allows himself to feel the whole range of human emotion. He's always honest, and despite all his tragic experiences, he has the most positive outlook and remains one of the most loving people you will ever meet. That's why my now-husband and I argued about whose "side" he'd be on at the wedding. We both wanted him in our entourage. The happiest of mediums was when it hit me--he should officiate our wedding. There's no one as holy in my book as Matthew. My husband agrees.

Several years ago now, his father died suddenly, and at his funeral I met his younger brother. My younger brother had the same name and was the same age, so I thought that was neat. I didn't really get to know him, though, and in his early twenties he and a couple friends who were spending the night were murdered while they slept by someone they knew over some stupid disagreement over nothing.

Matthew continues to grieve for his brother's tragic death, and it seems like there are so many days of the year that compound his sadness: his own birthday, because his brother's was only two days later, any holiday, but especially Christmas, September 9, the date he died. He and his mother grieve daily but still manage to work every day to make this world a better place for those young people still living. Matthew (and his mother, too) has the uncanny ability to turn sadness and pain into positive, radiating warmth. He used his pain as fuel and started a nonprofit on social and emotional learning that has taken off and has already made some really strong positive impact on our community.

And of course he still serves as a volunteer staff member at the leadership camp we both hold dear. He lives with his sweet, ruggedly-rough-around-the-edges partner and his lovely elderly dog and his misunderstood cat. Soon, he might also live with the two baby goats we're thinking of buying together and sharing custody.

You have a great honor to meet one of the very best people. Soak it in.

Endless Summers

Hometown Orphan