A couple of weeks ago, I said goodbye to a friend. As I type the word friend, it immediately falls flat. There are so many other words that would better describe our relationship; confidant, advocate, mentor, and eventually collaborator.
I received the news of his passing on a Saturday afternoon, where I was commiserating myself over the abysmal performance of the Arkansas Razorback football team, sitting on my living room couch. The news wasn’t surprising. We had long separated our regular morning coffee sessions due to his illness. The separation being long enough that seeing his face and the recall of our time together hit me deep in the chest.
As tears began to fall down my cheeks, my wife grew immediately concerned. She knows I’m a crier of high renown, and although the game was going poorly, it wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t speak. I tried, but I couldn’t get words over the top of my tongue. The words were stuck at the top of my throat, and I knew if I spoke them out loud, I would most certainly not be able to hold back the flood that I could feel welling up behind my eyes. It wasn’t the vocal acknowledgment of the passing but a physical exertion to vocalize, which I knew would prevent the hold I had on the flood.
I laid down in the bedroom for a bit. I needed a moment, a moment to recollect. The memories came flooding in, moments I hadn’t thought of in years. Conversations, jokes, stories, and silly coffee cups were racing around in my head. Work that seemed so important at the time, forgotten with some distance, was suddenly refreshed in my washy memories. Books. This man taught me how essential books could be when you find yourself awash on an island full of tasks that you have no idea how to complete.
Now over the age of forty, there is a generation of disappearing friends and family beginning to climb in number. It’s a cycle of life that we all go through, I suppose, but when you first enter the fray, it’s a little jolting. Like the increasing lines on my face, I occasionally look up and think, “What the heck happened?”
Now when that thought comes up, I see the lines, think of old friends, and the answer comes, life, my friend. Live it well and live it fully, and when you shuffle off this mortal coil, you will leave behind more smiles than tears.