"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Farewell to You, My Trusted Friend

I’m waiting for a letter.

My friend, collaborator and former publisher wrote deathbed letters to his best friends, telling them what they’d meant in his life. He left them with his lady friend to be mailed after his death. I hope I get one.

He was one of a handful of friends who make up the short list of people I turn to for advice or to share the best and worst that life brings. The ones who will be with me until the end.

Our friendship was a touchstone of growth and insight. He was a brilliant man, stoically determined to remain an agnostic while countering my Christian beliefs with well-taken points that gradually changed me from being a card-carrying Catholic to a spiritual thinker increasingly uncomfortable with blind acceptance to a religion and pat beliefs about homosexuality and tolerance. He sent me an unexpected birthday gift once, a crucifix made of inlaid tiles, one of six he'd purchased from a down-and-out artist friend for $100 each. And he kept a Catholic crucifix on his office wall, covered by a hat. Hedging his bets, I told him. We both grew, but neither of us managed to change the other person’s core. Just as it should be, I suspect. 

I met him at a writing event. When he later asked me to edit an anthology he planned to publish, we embarked on a collaborative journey that spanned twenty years, my move to Oregon with my husband of forty-five years—and his to Canada, and after his divorce, to Santa Fe to become a screenwriter. Our first ventures included publishing my two memoirs with old-fashioned off-set printing. When the Fed Ex truck delivered three pallets of the first title, I was stunned at how much space 4,500 books took up in his garage. When he retired from publishing, I bought up the remainders for pennies on the dollar. I was expected to sell them, so I did. Over the years the pallets dwindled. Nineteen years later, I’m down to a single case of one title, a dozen cases of the other. I didn’t want to disappoint him so I became a speaker, a marketer, a writer.

He was fond of quoting obscure philosophers. I have a stack of Post-It notes with his pithy little sayings stuck in a box somewhere. I used to keep them on my wall, but now I find my own. As with, “A friend is someone who brings out the best in you and accepts the worst in you.” We’re lucky when we find such a friend.

His passing wasn’t a shock. He’d passed off his symptoms for a year before he finally went to the ER. By then the cancer had spread to his colon, liver and lymph glands. He endured the gamut of surgeries, chemo and their side effects with cheer and stoic resolve, determined to accept the consequences for his negligence. Or maybe he merely mustered his best self for our phone calls in the last months and weeks of his life.

My last package to him included soft, fluffy pajamas and a photo of our new church, built while he was undergoing his chemo. Armed with a black felt tip pen, I had climbed onto the unfinished altar and wrote his name on the center 2x6 steel girder, in bold block letters, so that every Sunday he’d be there under a layer of sheetrock and paint, in the space between the crucifix and the tabernacle. I touched up the photo with his name where it will remain for the next hundred years or so, and mailed it to him. He was moved to tears—by that and the candle I lit for his vigil, the week he passed. Not much else I could do from 1,500 miles away.

So I guess this is it. He wouldn’t want sorrow. But he promised me a letter. I hope it arrives.