Michelle Lang and I did not often cross paths.
We met for the first time in 1996 at the Cariboo Press annual editorial conference in Williams Lake. She was a cub reporter at the Prince George Free Press and I was new to Kamloops This Week, new even to B.C. and Western Canada.
We chatted occasionally over the course of our community-newspaper tenures but never really developed more than a casual relationship.
We reconnected again last spring. She called my office at Bow Valley College where I was a media relations specialist. She needed to connect for a story she was writing for the Calgary Herald.
As is usually the case when former colleagues stumble upon each other, we spent most of the conversation catching up and recounting the travels that brought us to where we were that day.
Business over, Michelle said, 'Let's chat again soon, OK?'
We never spoke again.
Today, Michelle was repatriated by the Canadian Armed Forces, her body encased in a casket draped with the Canadian flag.
Michelle and four Canadian soldiers were killed by a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Dec. 30, 2009.
I first 'heard' the news when Metro Calgary posted a story link to Twitter. I remember letting out a cry of anguish, realizing someone I knew had died most tragically in the line of duty.
The community - from Calgary to the country, from the Herald to Cariboo Press - is reeling from her loss.
She touched countless lives as she told stories from one end of Western Canada to the other.
That CAF is treating her as one of their one only further describes the impact she had, in only the brief few weeks she was in Afghanistan.
My childhood friend, Dennis, leaves tomorrow for training to return to the Middle East for another tour of duty.
He was struck to write me after I posted an R.I.P. tribute to Michelle on my Facebook status and I hope he doesn't mind me sharing his words.
"Far too many times in recent years I have had to deal with the deaths of my close friends and extended military family in Afghanistan, and regardless of how well you knew Michelle, I can say from experience that sometimes it just hurts," he wrote.
"Yes, It sucks, it hurts, and sometimes you just wonder why, but she (and you) as a journalist were/are involved in a noble profession, endeavoring to bring that which is obscured to light for the greater good. I am saddened by every death in that country, soldier or civilian alike. As a friend I am just saying, if you need to cry, then do it, but don't just mourn your friend, celebrate her life as well. That will help you and your friends deal with such a horrible event.'
Dennis's words and a most recent Herald tribute to Michelle has prompted me to take great reflection on my career as a journalist and who I am today.
Michelle became the journalist I had dreamed of being. She worked harder, dug deeper and beat others to the front line.
After being that kind of reporter in sports in B.C., I, instead, accepted fates that were handed to me, punching away at Calgary Sun agate pages and eventually giving up on my dream once Sun Media handed me my layoff papers and told me it was over.
Sometimes I imagine going back to that life, missing it with every breath I take; other days, I don't think I could handle the readjustment to dogging others for information, working long days, nights and weekends, and facing the daily tribunal of reader judgment and criticism.
For Michelle's honour, however, we all can strive to do better, to reach higher, to dig deeper and to find more compassion in our hearts so that we, too, leave a legacy of love and enlightenment for all to share.