One of my best friends died last week. His name is Jack and we've been confidants and boating buddies for more than half my life. He taught me a lot and he always told me I taught him a lot too, which is an amazing thing to hear from someone who's fifty years older than you.
Jack was a great storyteller and he told me all about history, the real life kind. He described what it was like to immigrate to Canada alone as a teenager and rum-run during prohibition. He told me about riding trains out west in search of work during the depression and about his time spent with the Native people of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Occasionally he would talk about fighting in the Second World War, leading men in battle when his lieutenant was killed, falling in love during the Battle of Britain and his pride in wearing a uniform. He was living history and sitting with him on his boat watching sun set and listening to the loons call, I would feel time pass through him into my hands.
But Jack wasn't just about the past; he was adamantly concerned about the future. We assessed and worried about how the world was run and planned revolutions and general improvements. We argued about politics, war, economics, religion and civil rights--just about anything serious. He taught me how to communicate and debate. He demanded that I stand up for my beliefs. He helped me shape my values and opinions, even if he didn't agree with half of them. He was so proud of me.
The night Jack was dying, another friend of his and I sat at his bedside. He was not often lucid this last day. About two hours before he died, he started to mutter. He had a little smile on his face, a sort of peaceful look, and he just kept murmuring, "Ahh, yes," and "Mmmhmm," and "Yup." I'm not sure why he kept saying these things, but I was filled with peace listening to him. His words were so affirming. Maybe he was atoning his sins (if so, he was pretty satisified with a lot of them because sometimes he'd chuckle a little) or maybe he was accepting death. When I remember his words, I'm less afraid of my own death and the chasm between the living and the dead seems not so wide.
More than anything else in the world, my friendship with Jack taught me that people are people regardless of their sex or race or age. The only boundaries that exist are those you construct. Everyone has something to offer, something to learn.
I hope that I can follow in Jack's footsteps, to be as fiercely loving of life as he, to have as much fun, and to be as perceptive and curious and caring.
Thanks, Jack. I'll miss you.
Paula welcomes mail of support from those who may have experienced a similar loss.