A quote — remembered

The last e-mail I got from a dear friend, Nick, ended with one of his trademark quotes, tucked under his signature line.

“If your life flashes before your eyes when you die, does that moment also flash before your eyes?”

I don’t recall the content of his missive, just that quote line. And the piercing sensation that raced through my body when another friend bounced toward me to ask if I’d heard the news: Nick, a year or two my junior, had died the evening before. He was about 30 then, fit, with a wiry ponytail perpetually tied at the base of neck. And he’d collapsed at his car door following karate practice. Heart attack. It’s was a hereditary thing for his family and came as a double blow to his mom,  widowed from the same biological demon. Nick had helped to support her — and his college-aged brother, who also needed his moral and financial support.

But, in an instant, Nick was gone.

I’d worked with Nick in SoCal. Lunched with him. Teased. And listened to his someday dreams. Among those dreams was a biking trek through Scotland. He talked dreamily about the rolling green hills. And horded whatever lit he could find on the topic.

I paused at his desk, where a new chair had been delivered earlier that morning and where a colleague had placed a bouquet of yellow daffodils in his honor. Peppering one of his tables were the chronicles of his someday dreams: folded and stacked brochures about the adventures of biking across Scotland. A trip that he never took. A vision left for someday. Clutter in the eyes of our corporate employer, who would quickly 86 the brochures to make way for the next warm body to fill his new chair and cubicle. Even as our hearts sunk.

Nick, in many ways, nudged me from my sleepwalk at that time. Rather than idle through life, I stepped it up a notch — got back into school, started writing and snatched back control of my life. It was a painful transition. One that led to divorce for me. And to a number of more pleasant growth spurts. I owe him that, even though I sometimes forget — time has a way of softening the tracks that others have made on our hearts and souls.

Nick was in my mind again today. And it was hard to say just why, at first. I was engrossed in my Sunday ritual: Bonding with a cup of coffee and the New York Times at a favorite sipping spot. A homeless man lingered, alternating between cigarette puffs and strumming the most peaceful chords on his wayward guitar. I watched with a smile as a young couple bought the lanky man lunch. And, just beyond them, through the coffee shop window, I caught the glimpse of a vaguely familiar woman. And I couldn’t place her. Then, I remembered: She resembled a colleague who had also befriended Nick and, after his death, befriended Nick’s mother.

It was her eyes, dark, penetrating and kind. And it took me hours to figure what it was that she, unwittingly, reminded me of: My dear friend, Nick. The lives that he touched. The life that was cut too short. And the dreams that he left unfulfilled. All, with a backdrop of kindness, the offer — and acceptance — of a warm meal, and the music that tied the melody together.

-Christy

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