Friday, October 17, 2008

My friend John

PS Thanks for all the emails following this post. :)

This morning was terrible. I learned that an old friend of mine passed away a couple weeks ago. I've got all these thoughts bumping around in my head, so I'm going to pour them out here.

John and I went to Penn together, but we didn't meet until late winter of my senior year at the interview day for the Thouron Award. I can't remember how we started talking, but it was right after we arrived, waiting for the long day to begin. It came up that he was from Arkansas and I was from Indiana. We bonded over being from such "strange" states for Penn students. Throughout the day, my favorite conversations were with John and another student Shahzad. Needless to say, I was thrilled when all three of us were among the five students given Thouron Awards that year.

John went to Oxford. I went to LSE. (Shahzad went to Cambridge.) During my first week in London, before classes had even begun, I was wandering from LSE back towards my dorm and I ran into John on the street. His classes hadn't started either, so he'd come to London for the day. He wanted to track me down to join his sightseeing, but he only had my address. He went there, didn't find me, and then started walking towards LSE. Feeling rather overwhelmed to be alone in a foreign country, I was so happy to see him. Beyond happy.

Throughout the year, John and I developed an excellent friendship and John came to London often. John and I had so much fun together. I remember cracking up with him during an audio tour of Kensington Palace, although I can't remember at all what was so funny. Another visit, we were wandering the London streets and for some reason we both found the name "WokWok" hysterical -- it was a restaurant, I think. To this day I smile and think of John every time I see a wok. And I will never forget going clubbing in downtown London in formal Thouron event clothes, dancing like the crazy Americans we were.

John and I also talked about all the serious things in our lives. I went to Oxford for a day to visit him and we walked and talked nonstop from morning until after midnight when I caught a bus back to London. We talked about relationships, family, careers. Everything. He talked about an old girlfriend through the lens of what he wanted for his life -- and what he wanted was always focused on family. He wanted a gaggle of kids. He wanted to work for a while in a big city. Then he wanted to raise his family in Arkansas farm country. He worried a lot about how he would find a great woman to marry who was also willing to move to Arkansas with him. He praised his mom all the time.

We had a lot of political discussions. My liberal politics were not fully formed back then, but I was already pretty far to the left. John was on the right. We disagreed a lot. We had long talks about greed and corruption, and shared the same worries about the state of politics and politicians in America. We were both very concerned about how the rest of the world saw America. John was drawn to the Catholic Church and eventually was confirmed in the Church during his two years in Oxford.

John was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I'd ever met. He was old school chivalrous. The day I visited him at Oxford, every time we'd cross to a different sidewalk, he'd reposition himself to be closer to the road than me. He never had an unkind word for anyone.

Sometime during his second year at Oxford (I just had one year at LSE), John met Sara, who he would eventually marry. John was amazed by her. It was clear he'd met his match. He told me happily that she might even be the type of woman who'd move to Arkansas some day.

John also gave me some great friends. John introduced me to my best friend at LSE -- Philip -- who John met in the bar in the basement of my dorm (seriously) when visiting me one time that fall. In the summer of John's second year at Oxford, I had been working at McKinsey a year when I got sent to London for a training. I got there a day early and went to Oxford to visit John. A McKinsey coworker, Sandip, went on the same training had the same plan to visit a friend at Oxford, and it turned out that Sandip's friend and John were the best of friends. So we all spent an awesome day together, including football and a bonfire in their backyard until the wee hours of the morning. Sandip became a great friend to me from that day on.

But life marches forward. When I left NYC in 2001, I didn't get to see a lot more of John except at Thouron events. It's probably one of my greatest frustrations about the nomadic life I've led. I've found so many amazing friends along the way, and then distance and adventures push you out of touch for far too long stretches.

The last time I saw John was in the fall of 2005. Rob and I were visiting NYC for the weekend, in large part to visit John and Sara. We met their two oldest kids. (Now there are three kids.) Rob and I had been at a Thouron event that summer and I'd been surprised John wasn't there, so I'd dropped him a line after. John hadn't heard about it and was sad to have missed it. When we finally saw each other that fall, we promised each other to be in much better touch and to always call each other when a new Thouron event was on the horizon -- and to always go. That way, we said, we would always be in touch.

John called me in the fall of 2006. He'd been at the memorial service for a member of the Thouron family in Philly. I hadn't heard about the service until too late to go as I was in Chicago. John and I traded voicemails afterwards. I owed him a call back. And I kept meaning to call.

A few weeks ago, I got a Thouron mailing. A save the date for the 50th reunion in June 2010. I immediately thought about John. I made a mental note to call him. To promise one another we'd both be there no matter what.

Not too long ago, John and Sara moved to Arkansas, just as he'd always wanted. Now I know that when I got that Thouron mailing, John had been in an Arkansas hospital for some time, recovering from a terrible accident. Now I know that right around the time I got that mailing, John died from complications from his accident. I don't even know how to process it.

Why was I so bad at being in touch that I didn't even know when he moved? How could I have not known about his accident? I'm just devastated. I'm sad to have lost such a special friend. A friendship that I took for granted would be always be there for me to return to. I'm appalled that a person so important to me was going through so much pain and I was completely unaware.

I'm at a loss. In every way.

So to John: I can't believe you're gone. Our friendship gave me such strength. I hope you knew that somehow. I never said it. I should have said it. I will always miss you. I will always always remember you. I am so glad you got the life you dreamed of, even if it was cut far too short.

1 comment:

wheelsonthebus said...


I am so sorry for your loss.