It feels weird to say anything in tribute of William Gray; when I think about him, his life seems more than tribute enough. Those who knew him know how brightly his star shined. Living for what is much less than a typical lifetime, he, if nothing else, left us enough songs, writings, and poetry to serve as tribute for multiple.
Here’s one thing I can say about William Gray — one thing that’s very striking to me: Will liked to call other people geniuses. He liked to tell other people how smart they were and how amazing they were. To me, though, Will was the one who was a genius. So smart and so ahead of his time. Or, at the very least, ahead of *my* time.
Will taught me the names Bela Fleck, Sarah Vaughan, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Iron and Wine, and Miles Davis, long before my mind was capable of comprehending whom they were and their significance. Slowly and steadily, though… and as recently as a few years ago… I found myself listening to music I hadn’t really listened to before, thinking that this was some of the best music I’d ever heard in my life, and wondering where I’d first heard about them. The answer was, quite often: William Gray, about 10 to 15 years ago.
Side note: I’m listening to a song from the Love Jones soundtrack right this second… hopefully that means something to some of you. If not, I promise you it’s very significant and you’ll just have to take my word on that. For anyone who’s wondering, the song is “Hopeless,” by Dionne Farris.
It was also a high-school-aged Will who told me “I write to know what I think” and “I sing to know how I feel.” The significance of these statements stayed suspended in time for over a decade until a few years ago, when I found myself assuming I was very happy and was shocked to notice I was humming songs that were very, very sad. It wasn’t until I was pushing-or-over 30 that my mind was finally ready to receive the wisdom given to me by a teen-aged William Gray.
When I think about Will, I think about how good he was at everything. And when I say “everything”, I mean the things that really matter. He was loving in a way I wish everyone could be loving. He was introspective in a way I wish everyone were introspective. He loved thinking and he loved writing and he loved music. He was caring — and cared for… and much regarded… — in a way I would wish on us all.
That is a large part of what I think about, when I think about William Gray.
I have many memories of Will, and they don’t make much sense out of context… you sort of had to be there. I do remember favorite trees, and The Brown Hornet, the freedom of back roads and wide open night time skies. Realizing the skies in the country are so clear you can see satellites soaring through the stars. There was the one time I dared play him in a game of Horse. (I won, clearly…) There was Alanis Morissette, and the circular stairs that led down to his parents’ basement, and how he was much better at talking to girls than I was, and all the mannerisms that I have that I’m sure he also had and who knows who had which mannerism first.
There was this one time Will told a few of us that staying in the truck on a sunny day was his equivalent of working on a tan, because he liked to keep his complexion “baby seal brown”. If you were there, or if you know Will well enough to imagine him saying that, then I hope that memory of mine brings some joy to you.
Memories are tough. Memories, inherently, belong to the people who were there. And maybe… if you’re lucky enough to know someone really well… very, very well… you can perhaps transport yourself into that moment, with those people, in that room, and maybe share in that memory a little bit, too.
Which, I suppose, brings me almost to the end: think of Will, mourn Will, and let a smile come to your lips when a memory of him drifts through your mind. And then, do the thing that Will did: go out, live your life to the fullest, build up your community of loved ones, and love them as best you can.
Take an extra moment, really think about how you feel, and make sure all the people you love in your life know it.
We live life like we’ll live forever, and that’s not true; we all die someday. The time we spend conscious and on earth is the most limited resource we have…. which makes every moment surprisingly valuable. Invest that time wisely: write your affection down on paper, or send it through the air in a song, and give it to the people you love. Spend time with those people, laughing and crying and living.
Then, you will have more memories for when you need them, and make more memories for when you are gone. You’ll live a life of love while you’re here, and leave the world more loved when it’s your time to move on.
Your life will be its own tribute, and people will hopefully say that they have trouble speaking of how wonderful you are — because it’s difficult to put into words, and if a person knew you, then they certainly already know.