Thursday, July 14, 2011

Remembering a Friend

A friend of mine, Bob, died last week.  We were co-workers for many years until he retired.  We lost touch over the years.  When I retired, he came to the celebration.  It was good to see him - so good that he came to give me a big hug along with "congratulations" and some bit of advice on how to enjoy my retirement. I could not know that it would be the last time that I saw him.  We kept in touch for a couple years but when my last email was rejected, I didn't follow up with a note or card to see how he was doing.  After all, why use snail mail when the whole world had moved to quicker electronic messaging or social networking?  I didn't hear from him for several years but then a month or so ago, out of the blue, he "friended" me on Facebook.  It didn't really surprise me as many of our mutual friends had shown up on the network over the past year.  I "accepted" and pointed him to others on Facebook to "friend".  Now I look back and realize he must have been saying "goodbye" to us in his own way.  He later sent a message saying he had cancer but was holding his own and doing okay.  Still I didn't pick up the phone and call to find out more  -- I didn't reach out to him.  I just sent along a response letting him know my prayers were with him.  Later I sent another message asking him how he was doing but never got a response.  Now I realize that he probably never got my last message and I am left to grieve for my friend and regret my own lack of initiative.  I ask myself why I didn't reach out to him.  It had been years since we spoke so it was perhaps just way too easy to let myself be distracted by other trivial things.  I ask myself how many other friends and acquaintances that I knew or grew up with or worked with over the years have died without my having gotten the chance to let them know that they had an impact on my life?  It is as if small bits and pieces of my memories are drifting off like confetti in the breeze never to be recovered again. 

But, perhaps, that is the way it is supposed to be.  I ask myself if I really knew Bob and I find myself remembering him and wondering who he was really.  And I am glad that my memories are good ones.  Per my recollection, he was a kind and caring man.  And he was pretty funny with a solid sense of humor.  We worked together for many years....maybe 12 or more years. His desk was probably never more than 50 feet from mine in the cubicle maze at the office where we worked.  i knew he had a daughter he dearly loved.  He talked of her all the time and proudly showed us her elementary school artwork and kept her photos on his desk.  He also had a son from a previous marriage that he had not seen for many years.  We knew nothing of this son until he showed up one day telling us that his son was coming to see him. We were thrilled for him when it all worked out okay. 

A mutual friend described Bob as a "gentleman" and I find that I agree with that.  He loved jazz and would sing old torch songs quietly as he worked on the contracts he negotiated.  I remember talking to him about music and he was blown away that I knew who Etta James was.....well, of course after that, he made sure to tell me all about his favorite musicians.  Most were from the 50's and 60's and I always wondered if his dad had introduced him to what would become a life long love of music.  Bob didn't talk much about his parents.  It was my understanding that his mom died young and he was raised by his grandmother in North Carolina until he went to live with his dad in New York City.  It doesn't surprise me that Bob also loved the city and he would bring prints of city-scapes into the office for his desk.  He never could understand why we all didn't feel the same way about city life and looking at buildings and walking down busy city streets. But he also loved talking about North Carolina and the country town where he was born and where many of his relatives still live.  His funeral is being held there so, perhaps, when he thought of going home it was to the country from whence he came after all. 

I have one last memory of Bob to share.  We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001.  I was downtown attending a conference.  Bob and the rest of the Branch members were at the office.  The building sits outside the beltway in Oxon Hill, Maryland.  Our office was on the ninth floor and had a very nice view of Washington, DC.  Bob was at work that day.  His cubicle was in a perfect position to see the Potomac River and the Pentagon.  Don sat in the next cubicle.  I remember both Bob and Don telling me that they both noticed a plane that was coming in to the airport from the wrong angle almost simultaneously.  They had seen many planes come up the river to land there at Reagan International Airport and this plane was coming from the west...totally wrong.  It was as if they both looked up just at the right moment and they watched horrified as the plane flew into the Pentagon.  Both told me that they simultaneously picked up the phone to dial 911 to report the "accident".  I cannot imagine how awful that must have been to stand there watching that plane fly straight into the building.  I wonder at times what thoughts must have flashed through Bob's mind as he watched that plane and how it might have changed his life to have had that experience.

Yes, like confetti that falls softly through my thoughts, the memories come and go.  Bob now joins those friends and family members I've lost who continue to live in my memory.  And while I didn't always find the opportunity to say "goodbye", I am glad that Bob found a way to say "goodbye" to me.  Thank you for being a good friend over the years, Bob.  Vaya Con Dios.