I feel blessed with friends who are smart, up to date, and engaged in the world, but I’m bothered by a recent phenomenon. Increasingly, M and I find our conversations with friends begin with an organ recital – what hurts, new ailments, what needs to be replaced, good home remedies, doctors’ appointments, and physical therapy magicians – before we move on to the nation’s health.
We also talk about scanning newspaper obituaries for friends and the names of notable people we admire. This wasn’t the new normal until about a year ago. Now it is. Last Sunday, for the second week in a row, the long form obituaries in the New York Times’ were all of people in our decade of life. I immediately went to the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator to see how long I have.
Bingo! I should live another 8 years and 8 months. Good for estate planning but not much time left to write that New York Times bestseller.
All this was in my mind when I learned that my friend, Joel, suffered a serious stroke while visiting friends on Sanibel Island in Florida. His life will never be the same. In an instant, everything changed – for Joel, for his wife Jody, for his children, grandchildren and friends. The good news is, after being life-flighted to a hospital in Fort Myers and spending time in the ICU, he’s out of the hospital and starting the long path to recovery. As our mutual friend, Annie, says he’s a tough old bird and that bodes well for a good recovery. But, none of us will ever be the same. Each time this happens to a friend it reminds us that we’re closer to the end than the beginning.
I’ve known Joel for 60 years. We were fraternity brothers at the University of Washington and reconnected when our families moved to the Sun Valley area about the same time in the 70s. Our kids became friends and went to school together. We skied and played tennis together. We rode Slickrock, Gemini Bridges, and the White Rim trails in Moab. Twenty years ago, during an 18 day raft trip through the Grand Canyon, Joel flipped our raft and dumped Jody and me in the rapids at House Rock just after screaming “the perfect run.” And, Jody, a well-known rock climber, introduced my former wife to the sport and they’ve spent many days together at City of Rocks in southern Idaho. We have lots of shared memories.
On top of our shared interests, Joel is also a serious outdoorsman – bird hunter and fly fisherman – and we’ve eaten more meals of quail, sage grouse and buckshot than I can remember around the grill in their backyard. His love for Idaho, family, and the outdoors cost him professionally, but he made the necessary trade-offs so they could have the life they all loved. His boys, Erik and Matt, graduated from Dartmouth and Middlebury respectively but returned to Idaho to become outdoor professionals and raise their own children – now friends with my children and grandchildren.
And it’s all due to Joel, who for 30+ years commuted from Idaho to teach management courses at the Graduate Business School at Santa Clara University.
I haven’t seen Joel and Jody in almost 10 years, but I still care deeply about them. I moved to Seattle and they’re still in Idaho. We “see” each other on Facebook and I follow Erik and Matt’s adventures where they intersect with Doug, Diana, and Brent. But, the torch has been passed. We can joke about organ recitals and nostalgia for past adventures, but it’s really friendship that’s our connection.
I’m praying, yes praying, for Joel’s recovery and keeping my fingers crossed for good measure. I want both of us to live that last 8 years and 8 months in a high-quality way. We may not ride Slickrock or run House Rock rapids again, but our love for the outdoors remains. I hope in the near future Jody will pack up the van and the two of them will come to visit us in Seattle. In the meantime, I’ll relive “the perfect run”, especially the right side up part. Got to go now; got to get back to writing that New York Times bestseller before another month goes by.
My son Brent with his kids running the rapids at Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon