In high school I had a friend named Julie. Her maiden name was Beam, and given teachers’ boundless creativity with seating charts, we ended up sitting nearby in many classes. Julie’s letters to me in four yearbooks remind me that I sat behind her in Earth Science, in Biology, and—this one I vividly remember—in Humanities, that class that blew the world open in two-hour increments in a Grand Rapids classroom. Julie and I often had to compare notes, literally, to fill in the holes in our captures of the rapid-fire lectures.
Julie signed her notes Jewels, and by senior year our friendship ran to lengthy yearbook reminiscing.
We stayed in touch in college, when she went off to Anderson, Indiana and I to Ann Arbor. Here’s one story to enliven Julie: She had a date once where she and the guy went to Goodwill, picked out silly outfits for one another, and then wore them for the rest of the night.
Julie was vibrant, and brave, willing to disregard rules or conventions to get to the heart of a matter, or a person, or a cause.
She once let me tell her the same long, self-involved, animated story twice without telling me she’d heard it all before. I only realized it as I was finishing the second time, and I was mortified when the realization dawned on me. But I’ll never forget the look on her face.
“Why didn’t you stop me?” I demanded.
And she just smiled serenely, a twinkle in her eye. It was the unmistakable look of someone loving another unconditionally, and delighting in it. She knew I loved to tell stories. She knew the telling was helping me process my feelings. I suspect she knew I am forgetful by nature. She simply let me . . . be. It seems such an inconsequential moment, but it’s something I’ve never forgotten. It’s one of the nicest, most personal gestures I’ve known.
“Lynne, whatever you want to do in life, YOU CAN DO IT!” Jewels wrote in my yearbook.
After all these years I’m still working to internalize this, but Julie, she got it figured out right away. She devoted her life to service in the church, became an ordained minister, and spent nearly the last decade in Paraguay as a missionary with her husband and family.
This week there was a devastating car accident in Paraguay, and Julie and her beloved son Timmy, age 6, passed away. Her husband Norberto and their young daughter Anahi survived. Six hundred people reportedly attended the funeral, and I suspect ten times that many are mourning the world over.
I last saw Julie and her husband at our high school reunion in 2009. It was too brief—they were on furlough and had to leave early to continue their travels. She turned away and I clumsily praised her to her own husband. I told him how I read her blog from Boston and how worthy their work was, while mine . . . I trailed off.
“Each person in a community has an important role to play,” Norberto, also a pastor, said. “No one is less than another.”
He exuded humility and gentleness, and he clearly believed these words. The way he said them, I could believe them too.
Like so many, I’ve been struggling and grappling with the news this week. All I can think today is that, for those of us who were lucky enough to be in the community of Julie (Beam) Kurrle, we’ve just been handed a new script.
We have to rally around the ones she left behind. We have to remember her radiance by celebrating all that she was in our daily lives all over the globe. Perhaps we can consult her memory when weighing important decisions or taking leaps of faith.
I can certainly try to listen more or better or especially again, even if I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it before.
These are the ways I endeavor to never to forget you, Jewels. I know how much you loved the Lord, and the only (hard) comfort to be had this week is that you and Timmy are indeed now with Him forever.
We look so forward to seeing you again.
22 April 2012
Epilogue – May 2016
First, please go and read Norberto Kurrle’s blog, including the gut-wrenching posts about his loss and ongoing recovery from this tragedy. In March 2015, Norberto married a woman named Nancy. On June 6, 2016, their first child together is due to join the world.
I originally posted the above to Facebook, and one of Julie’s college friends living in North Carolina reached out to me privately as a result. After a few notes back and forth, he revealed that he was in fact her college boyfriend, Mike—the one who had taken her to Goodwill on their first date. (It was more her idea, he said, which didn’t surprise me!)
Mike and I cemented a friendship over long phone conversations, many of which focused on our memories and grief over Julie. We cried together, and were grateful for the companionship in doing so.
When my brother married in the Poconos in July 2014, I found myself staring down a second sibling’s wedding with no date. I told Mike, and he bravely and generously made the long drive up from Raleigh. I will always be grateful. We had a lovely time, and I know we both thought about Julie’s hand in it all. We remain good friends to this day.
RIP Julie “Jewels” Beam. Your memory lives on.