“I think about you every day and I don’t know why I haven’t called you.” I weep as I write these words because they were spoken by one of my oldest friends during our final conversation.
Robbie and I became best friends during my senior year in college and my first year in graduate school. One day he walked into my room and announced: “did you know we were cousins?”. It turned out that his father and my father were first cousins and although I had never met Robbie, I knew his father. So now not only were Robbie and I best friends, we were family.
Although we lived about an hour from each other, we met just about once a month for lunch at Ponzio, a well-known diner in South Jersey. Despite saying that he was going to order something different, every time we met he had a hot turkey sandwich with home fries “well done”. The next month he made the same proclamation but wound up with the hot turkey sandwich. This went on for years.
One Sunday in early November, he was taking a walk in Fairmount Park when he collapsed. A good Samaritan gave him CPR and called 911. He was in a deep coma for 3 weeks and he never woke up .
I don’t know if he went to a better place or not, if he was going to reunite with his parents and his recently deceased brother. All I know is that I lost a precious friend and we will never again laugh over his hot turkey sandwich.
The anguish I feel now feels similar to when the doctor told us that my beloved sister had a glioblastoma and her life expectancy was 18 months. She was 55 at the time.
I once had a colleague who told me that he never said “see you later”, that he always said goodbye when he left someone not knowing if he would see them again. I was 30 years old when I first heard him say that and I thought it was pretty morbid. I no longer feel that way.
We keep forgetting that the person we are with this moment will die, probably before they want to. We keep forgetting that the stranger in the street, the waitress, the colleague and the acquaintance may die before we see them again.
Even people who we might dislike, who have beliefs that are an anathema to the ones we carry. We forget they are going to die and people will weep at their funerals and likely feel the kind of pain I feel right now.
How would the world look if we remembered? Perhaps we would love who love, but if we remembered we might cherish them. Perhaps we would look at the stranger and feel warmth-even affection allowing our hearts to open. Perhaps we would even see our adversaries without feeling righteous indignation, seeing their humanity and vulnerability underneath those beliefs. Perhaps we would awaken to precious and fragile our lives and the lives of others would become.
If we only remembered.
So despite being a vegetarian, I think I’ll go to Ponzio and have a hot turkey sandwich with home fries well done.