I first met him when I first moved to Cambodia. He was one of the young Cambodian chaps working for another Canadian compatriot of mine in the Marketing department at the University of Cambodia. He was good natured, friendly, always ready with a laugh and a smile, as Cambodians often are. Sometimes, when I was about to go home from work, he would spot me and say: "Oh, Scott, where are you going? To go somewhere, to do something, with someone?" And then he would laugh. I saw him every day for about a year; sometimes he would have to interrupt one of my lessons to speak to the class about this or that school announcement, or I would see him in the library, or in the halls. He was one of the dozens, hundreds, thousands of people who formed a backdrop to my life.
He died the other day. Killed by a drunk driver. Heading home to a party at his house where everyone was waiting for him. A party he never got the chance to attend.
He was not my best friend, or even a good friend, but he was someone that I knew. Someone I had shared a goodnatured moment or two with quite often over the past year or two.
I saw him for the last time about a month ago. He had moved on to another job, as had I. He gave me his card for his new job, and we discussed the possibility of me working for the same place at some point in the near future. I shook his hand, slapped him on the back, said see ya. Phnom Penh is a small town; I would see him again.
Every so often the ordinariness of life is upended. We are jolted and reminded that our time here is short, our options few, our guarantees nil. A world that takes a young man not yet twenty-four is not a fair one, or a balanced one, but it is a real one, and it is the realness of the real world that I have not yet begun to grasp or comprehend. I hope I never do.
Harlan Ellison once wrote: "Nobody should go down into the darkness with too few words."
I fear that these meager words are far too few to give justice to a life. Hell, I know that they are. But I humbly offer them with the hope that the news of the death of this young Cambodian man in a foreign land you will never visit, just starting out in life, will remind you of all those people in your own life -- at school, at work, at the supermarket --who you talk to on a regular basis, who you pass in the halls with a smile and a nod, who ask after your children, who you know little of other than that they are kind and good and pleasant. I hope that you will consider them. I hope that you will appreciate what they give you, however small it is. It's the small things in life that cushion us and accumulate.