I had an idea for a short story once. The premise was that people don’t actually die, and instead at the time of death they merely pass into another world, and… appear. Same age, same memories, but the old life they departed from continues along without them, and they pick up in the new world where they left off.

What kicked it off was the heart trouble a couple of years back. It started late at night, and I fell asleep despite the concern, only to haul my backside to the hospital a little after dawn. At the time I knew that had the heart trouble been bad enough I may well have passed away in my sleep, but the world would have ticked over despite me (the way it does). To which I thought, so who is to say that I didn’t pass? And the world I now inhabit was created to accommodate other souls who have also passed, and some who are placed here to make us feel comfortable about the transition?

The origin of that idea for me was a trip as an exchange student exactly 20 years ago. This time in 1989 I was in the middle of the most amazing year my young self had ever had. I was (relatively) popular, although in my experience I was *immensely* popular, because I had friends who genuinely liked me. I was living like the adopted son of a stable, normal family. I was seeing another world and feeling that I fit into it at least a little bit. It was the consummate halcyon days.

I’m mentioning all this because a friend from those days has uncovered a video the circle made me before I left (it’s up on Facebook and 40 mins long, so don’t feel compelled to watch it…), and it brought back the memory of those days sharply. And it is like a life I walked away from. To me those faces have always been the faces of living people, never aging, never wearying. Those memories are faded a little by time, and that world now only exists as part of a shared history, one I severed, but continued for all those participants. In a way that was a life I experienced, but departed from, only to begin anew upon returning to New Zealand.

God I loved them. They were a light in a dark world; to a clumsy, extremely immature, awkward, smug, troubled teen, one soon to attempt to drown the world in drugs and alcohol. In a way that world was a saviour to me, because it was to that which I clung when it all closed in just a little too much. And without them then the story may well have been a reality, and I would have known what the other side brings, well before my time.

And now those days echo down to me, a man whose spirit has passed to new lives all too many times, and I know I love them all still.

What it was to be a young in the midst of a life, vital. To them I was a year of difference as one of many, but I’ve always thought that single year was a defining moment of my life. So while many might merely remember the exchange student, to me it is a bas-relief carved upon the walls of my adulthood.

So to all of you who took the time all those years ago to make a life-long friendship. It worked. I missed you all for many, many years, and it is only now with the distance of many faux-deaths that I can look back and without heartache and truly appreciate what it was we had.

And only cringe at how foolish I was, just a little, tiny, bit.