It’s been 3 months since a friend and colleague passed away after a long and brave battle with cancer. I think of him often, in part because his office is a few doors down the hallway from mine, but mostly because he was a memorable guy. He was someone who faced what I considered at the time an unimaginable hardship: going through a divorce while simultaneously exploring treatments in a battle to extend his life, while at the same time trying to spend every living moment he could with his young daughter. It would be a heartbreaking story if it were not for the positive influence he had on a great number of people in both his personal and professional life. I never heard him speak ill of anyone, although I’m sure he did as all humans do. Such is life. I rarely found his focus to be on himself, although undoubtedly there were moments – even long stretches – of selfishness. Such is life. It’s only natural (and I think beneficial) to remember only the good things about someone we admired and respected after they have died, but that isn’t to say that in hindsight we need to think of our friends as perfect. That would be cheating them of being human.
When I was having a tough time, whether at home or at work, he was someone I could rely on to help me see the light, so to speak, and to focus on what really mattered. There were days he would take a walk with me (this all before his diagnosis) to get me to open up my chest and just to breathe. He would remind me of what was important, not by dispensing advice, but by asking me simple questions, like how my kids were doing.
He’s the kind of guy one would say took the high road. And coincidentally, that was the name of the road he lived on; it’s more than a convenient metaphor, though. There are any number of difficulties one finds in an hour, a day, a month, a year. Most of these are petty, many uncontrollable or unforeseen, but they all weigh on us in different ways at different times. I feel days when I can glide past the difficulty of my marriage ending, which on so many days feels like grieving for a lost one, with the ease, and as much pain, as smacking a biting mosquito. There are days when the kids are not with me, when something like buying a gallon of milk triggers a longing to see my children that feels like I’m being gutted with a dull knife. Life is a dream, but an imperfect one. That’s the sum of what I learned from the brief time in this world I was able to know JJ. Accept things for what they are in the moment, know that there is another day when things will not be so dire and, most importantly, take the high road. To do the right thing, as it is said, is a simple ethic. There have been many around me lately, JJ included, who have helped me understand how to live by that ethic, and for that I am grateful beyond words.