Being a college boy and never having spent time in the military, I have always been in awe of those of you who made that commitment and sacrifice. Joel was prime amongst them. He was a Marine and took ‘Semper Fi’ to heart. I have always appreciated his toughness, his tenacity, his dedication, his loyalty, and his commitment to those he cared about.
Many times in our lives, bad things happen to us, to our loved ones, for seemingly no reason at all. They are never explained, at least not to our satisfaction, and we are forced to move forward without any concept of purpose or understanding.
Talking heads will try to soothe our pain. They will offer cliches and hackneyed opinions because they are simply trying to help. The truth of it is, sometimes life just isn’t fair. Whether you find comfort in God or not doesn’t really change what our concept of fairness is in the big picture of losing someone close for seemingly no real reason.
But, that is not what this post is truly about. I want to find reason and purpose behind a tragedy many of my friends, both old and new, experienced last Friday.
On Friday, 10/16/09, my friend, Joel, passed away. He was a Marine. He was a Cop. He was my friend. In what follows you will find some of my thoughts and experiences with Joel. These are my words and feelings and really the only way I know to express how I feel about my friend…
I met Joel in December of 1998. It was our orientation day for the Academy. We would spend the next six months building a career for ourselves and a friendship that would last what turned out to be the rest of his life.
Some of you knew Joel, so some of the things I say will make you laugh and probably cry. If you didn’t know Joel, some of the things I say will make no sense whatsoever. He wouldn’t care. Sound weird? Here’s an example…
Having spent so much time together in an Academy class, you forcibly become a tight knit group. Not always a good thing, but still. A few weeks into the Academy, personalities really start to come out because we had shed the nervousness that was pervasive in such an experience. Joel was a born leader. He was also VERY outspoken and opinionated (but not even remotely in a bad way). He had a fantastic sense of humour, but you had to know him to truly appreciate it. If you didn’t know Joel, his comments could easily be misconstrued as abrasive and condescending. Believe me, though, they weren’t. To this day, I can’t say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes without hearing Joel saying, “Shut up!” instead.
Joel practically reeked confidence. He was the most confident man I have ever met. There was no challenge he would not accept…and utterly decimate. His mantra, at least with me, was “You suck and I rock!” Hilarious. I know it sounds arrogant as all get out, but it really wasn’t. The ‘you suck’ part was always said with jest. The ‘I rock’ part was all heart, though. The man didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit’. Not in his vocabulary.
While spending time with friends on Friday nite at both the hospital and later at Joel’s house, I listened to story after story about Joel. This past September was his first time entering the Best of the West SWAT competition. He finished 29th out of 160. First time. Unreal.
Joel finished 1st in our Academy class. He was the consummate student in our time in the Academy.
I had the pleasure of being his roommate nearly ten years ago. We had many late nights either watching movies or out drinking. Or both. Usually both. We had a lot of laughs together. We had experiences that were entertaining and perhaps a bit depraved (D.O.P. anyone?). Joel was the kind of friend I didn’t need to see every weekend to know if I needed something he’d be there to help. I can count on one hand the number of those kinds of friends I’ve had in my lifetime. We all have one less, now.
Joel was a BART police officer. He was a sniper for the SWAT team. Again, listening to his fellow officers and Team members on Friday, I was again impressed with Joel’s impact on his fellow officers. From newer Team members to old, all were in awe of the man Joel was. If you had to get into it, to a man, they all wanted Joel on their side.
Joel met his match in his wife, Noelle. They met while he and I were roommates. Joel had a passion for SCUBA and, as it turns out, Noelle, was the dive buddy he was meant to have. Similar wit and a love for all things under water were just the combination for Joel to find happiness in love. I was thrilled when I heard the news he had finally caved and made the leap he had sworn to never take again.
In his final act of heroism, Joel was an organ donor. Joel could save up to seven lives with the organs he was able to provide. Even in passing, Joel is still making a difference. If you have any questions about organ donation, please visit here.
Lastly, and on a personal note, please make sure you have all of your financial plans in order. Have a will. Have a Living Will. Make sure your plans for your family are complete and easy to find when you are no longer here. Joel was 37 years old. He was in better shape than I could ever hope to be. None of us know how long we have. Your family will be dealing with enough at your passing. Take the time now to ensure they will not have to scramble in addition to dealing with your loss.
I love you, Brother. I will miss you.