Free Will: Dylan

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May 12, 2016: Lines 16-20, on the back page of the “Albany Times Union,” read something like this: Dylan Irish was kind. Dylan was studying to become a teacher, and had made an already lasting impact on the kids he taught. He loved the outdoors and shared his love with everyone. Most of all, he made you smile, endlessly enjoying the look on your face when a grin would crack open.

Dylan would never let you get down on yourself. He made it his mission to shield you from yourself — all those self-perceived negative aspects, at least. It’s almost as if he took an ownership over your well-being — as if from the start, from the first minutes he spent getting to know you, you were allowed to be vulnerable and weak and open. With Dylan, there were no bounds to what you could express.

So when I read his obituaries, scrolling past word after word, words that paint him in the best light, I feel a brush of honesty. When I read the words of his friends online, I feel it again. To so many people, Dylan was a charismatic delight.

I share these sentiments with many of Dylan’s friends. We all knew him to be a larger-than-life figure. We all knew him for his radiant joy, his ability to bring the best out of you. He just simply had a knack for it.

I was only able to spend two weeks with him in the summer of 2009, albeit two weeks of full immersion in the woods, into the unrefined corners of Maine’s wilderness. I got to know his warmth, felt with every smile he popped. I was able to witness how genuine he was; it showed when he looked at you when speaking, and when he wouldn’t vapidly look at you when you were doing the same. He truly listened.

I knew Dylan for all the glow he illuminated onto us.

In first hearing about his death, I was quite simply in shock, feeling though time had frozen over. I called my friend Will, who was also there on our two-week trip, and we talked about him. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was my first experience with losing a friend, someone I grew close to with the power of conversation, and not just by relation.

I continued talking to Will, and we both wondered how this could happen to someone as positive as Dylan, someone who seemingly had it all figured out as he did. Perhaps we were so caught up with his larger than life persona that we missed the signs of his internal plague. Maybe others did as well.

Loss like this hurts, if only for the truth that if the same time given to you was reciprocated to your friend, the one with covered up scars, this all could be avoided or the pain could possibly be mitigated. But we live so forward minded and forward thinking, in pursuit of the ephemeral “what if” scenario.

Maybe I was so looking forward to my next conversation with Dylan that I didn’t consider hearing his story. Maybe I wanted him to solve my every problem. Maybe I saw how much he cared about me and ran with that, leaving behind a trail of soot and dust so cloudy I was unable to see where I was needed. I don’t know.

Myself and Dylan’s many friends live with these questions hovering over our head. We live knowing that our friend loved us more than he loved himself. And we live knowing that if we wish to honor him appropriately, we must love others more than we love ourselves.

What I learned from Dylan is that any conversation worth having is one worth your full attention. Open eyes, open ears, open heart. Empathy is a powerful force, able to bridge the widest gaps we have with each other. Dylan understood how our differences weren’t too far to connect, how just a few moments of your time would ease these differences away.

Precious a resource as time is, the quality of time spent with Dylan was far more meaningful than the quantity. The emotions felt upon hearing his loss were as if I had known him far more than two weeks. And at times, I do wonder if two weeks was meaningful enough to create something special.

In those moments, I take myself back to the back country, the expansive views we shared together, understanding that nature is the world’s greatest connector.

His loss was a loss for all of us who ventured with him, told stories as we scaled the sides of mountains and laughed with him next to a campfire. We live with the legacy he created and the lessons he left behind.

One day, I’ll find myself in the same backwoods of Maine, in the same spots we explored together. The thrill of the woods, the proximity to the mountains: In a sense, it’ll be like I never left, like Dylan is still there with me.

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