A friend of mine died today. No, my best friend died today and part of me died with him.
I could write this and that about him; he was a fine person, he loved life, he was kind to dogs. He was all of these things, but most of all he was my friend. The one who always accepted me in spite of my many blemishes. The one who always, always told me the truth about myself. And the one I could count on when I really needed someone to count on—with never a question asked.
This was a complex man who lived a simple life. He was wise because he literally absorbed books, but his knowledge of people and what was right and wrong with the world was what was most impressive. It was like he had a special insight that most of the rest of us don’t have. Some people thought he was a bit eccentric, but all that meant was that he wasn’t like them. And that was it—he wasn’t like anyone else. How I loved him for that. To me he was like a magnet that drew me in because I wanted to understand what he saw. I wanted to know why he laughed when all I saw was a shit pile. How he could see all the bad in the world, accept it, and come out on the other side still smiling. He never condemned anything that didn’t need condemning and he simply spoke about truths that angered a few people, but few could deny.
We all like to think of ourselves as our own person, but few of us really are. We let what others think matter more than it should. My friend was one of the few people who truly seemed happy with his life and the question of what others thought just never dawned on him. He looked at everything. Decided to accept it or discard it. Decided if it was truth or lie. Decided if he was for or against it. Then he never waivered. That didn’t always make his life easy, but it did make him a man who lived easy within himself.
I can remember arguing with him over many things, it was like a sport to us. I would come in blustering about one injustice after another and he would calmly make me take a real look at the facts. Looking at the facts seldom turned out well for me. I can never remember winning an argument, but I do remember he taught me to base my judgments on the truth and not emotion—something I try hard to do today (even though I often fail miserably).
Other than talking about how screwed up the world was our second favorite thing was going into the outdoors. I always needed a reason to be outdoors—hunting, fishing, backpacking. He never did. He went with the flow and looked at everything and anything as a wonderful experience. When our truck go stuck in the mud, when it rained torrents, when we froze our asses off, when the wind blew so hard the boat wouldn’t float downstream, he would listen to me rant for a while and then calmly tell me how it would all work out somehow. And it always did.
We slept in soaking wet sleeping bags. We nearly drowned in rivers when water went over the tops of our waders. We drove though awful blizzards. We endured terrible river guides. We ate things that were barely dead and things that were too long dead. We stayed in infested hotels avoided by the rest of humanity. I, of course, raised hell about all of it. He just accepted it (and, I’m sure, secretly rejoiced in my discomfort.) He could have taught me so much more if I just had always listened.
We both retired and he moved to Hawaii. I missed him, but we seldom went long without talking. Typically, he easily adapted from the streams and mountains of Idaho to the ocean and jungles of Hawaii. He bicycled, golfed, played poker and snorkeled (whatever the hell that is). He had gotten married for the first time in his life shortly before he moved there and I know that made him happier than he had ever been. He loved telling me in the middle of a cold, Spokane winter that it was always 80 degrees there. I now wish I had visited him like he asked, but I let painful knees keep me from going—he wouldn’t have done that.
Nothing can really console me, but a quote (I don’t know the source) given to me by my dad’s best friend at my dad’s funeral lessens my anguish:
“The only way we can spare ourselves the pain of losing loved ones is to never have had them at all, and who would give up the thoughts, the loves and the memories to spare ourselves, the pain of their loss. Instead, let’s say Thank God we had them as long as we did.”
We’re all getting older. We’re going to be losing friends until our friends lose us. Eventually, I going to accept loosing Bill, but I‘m never going to stop missing him.