Some time ago, a young man died whom I didn't know well, but who was good friends with many people I did. His name was Justin Shronk, and his death was sudden and tragic, and I remember vividly the sense of loss that enveloped our little poker reporting community in the aftermath.
I also remember that Shronk's death hit me harder than I might have expected, and that it took me some time before I could figure out why. We'd moved in the same circles for a few years, and worked in the same media rooms on three or four continents, but if we'd exchanged more than a handful of words to each other over the span of our careers, I'd have been surprised.
I hurt, of course, for my friends who'd known him well, and for his family. I could sense their shock and devastation and it hurt to see them suffer.
And I mourned, too, that a life that had spanned only twenty-seven years had ended so abruptly, when by rights Shronk ought to have had decades more to make his mark on the world.
But there was something else, too. And I couldn't quite pin it down.
I've been thinking about this again over the last couple of days. Another community of mine has suffered tragedy, and though Gracie Perkins couldn't have picked me out of a police lineup, I'm still shaken by her passing nonetheless.
Partially, again, it's that so many people I love are hurting right now. And partially it's that she's gone too soon, that blanket sense of unfairness when any young life is cut short, and without warning.
But again, there's something else.
What I eventually landed on, with Justin Shronk, was how it seemed to me that he'd found a home in a poker reporting community comprised of misfits and outcasts and people for whom the real world just wasn't a good fit.
And though I didn't know his story well, I knew that if his path to poker was anything like mine that he must have felt, when he arrived among us at last, that he'd finally found his tribe and in many ways his family.
And I was sad for Shronk, that he was gone so soon, and sad for the rest of us, that we'd lost a family member.
I only remember meeting Gracie Perkins once, and it was brief and late at night and unremarkable, but that doesn't matter. I feel her loss anyway.
Her reputation preceded her; I already knew she was a superstar in this alt community, and beyond. But that night, I caught a glimpse of the magnetism and the energy that drew so many to her orbit.
This community, kind of like my funny little poker-reporting world, draws in people from the margins, the misfits who never quite felt comfortable in their own skin, who've struggled through their lives to find some acceptable means of self-expression, some environment where they can finally feel free to be themselves.
It doesn't come easy. And I'm not trying to pretend to know anything about Gracie's life that I don't, or to suggest that she had it all figured out.
But I am saying that from where I stand on the margins of our community's solar system--hesitant, self-conscious, unsure--it seemed that she was at the centre, that she was one of those people who brought strength to so many people just by being so confidently, unabashedly herself.
She seemed to be someone who embodied so much of what so many of us in the alt community are looking for and striving to become, and it seemed that by her energy, and her magnetism, and just by being who she was, she drew the rest of us a little closer to that ideal, and made us all a little more comfortable letting our freak flags fly.
This community depends on people like Gracie to burn bright and light the way for the rest of us. I mourn because a beautiful individual is gone too soon and because people I love are in mourning.
And I mourn because the rest of us in this community now have to find our way forward down a path that's a little bit darker.
There's a GoFundMe page set up in Gracie's memory, and you can donate here.