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Tag Archives: Friendship

Goodbye Old Friend. It Was Great.

Today was an inordinately sad day for me. It wasn’t for all day, not even most of the day, but the feeling was different than many other sadnesses I’ve felt. I learned today that a man who I’ve been friends with since before I have actual memories passed away. A friend with whom I grew up and spent most of my childhood. My best friend for the better part of my first twenty years on this planet. The guy I enlisted in the U.S. Navy with in 1966 on the buddy system. He apparently had a heart attack and he also, apparently, was living alone as his body was not found for (I’ve been told) “some time.”

We were no longer really friends in the sense that we did things together or even talked; I hadn’t seen him in probably twenty years, but I had remained close to his younger brother, Bob, whose wedding I had performed and whose son was named after me and is my Godson. I heard about it first from his youngest brother, Chuck, in a Facebook message. Chuck lives in Kansas and I haven’t actually seen him in more than twenty years, but we’ve been FB friends for a while and I do believe I’m thought of as extended family. Jim wasn’t a Facebook kind of a guy. Unfortunately, a lot of people my age have never become comfortable with computers, let alone social media of any kind.

Still, Jim was so much a part of my life growing up, there’s no way I could forget his role in it. I used to go with him every Sunday to Saint Genevieve’s in Panorama City. Most of the time he would just grab a pamphlet in the vestibule to prove to his parents he had actually been in the building, then we would go off and play somewhere. There were also times when I had no choice but to attend Mass and I learned all the proper moves to make; holy water, genuflection, grace at meals when I had dinner at his house. I could even recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers if called upon to do so. I almost still can, just like I can almost still read Hebrew after four years of Hebrew school that culminated in my Bar Mitzvah. In all the years we lived with our parents, he always tried to find his way to our house for Friday dinner. He didn’t much care for fish and my father was a butcher at the Grand Central Market.

Back in the mid to late fifties, there was a yearly Carnival that took place in Panorama City, near the intersection where Parthenia peels off to the west from Van Nuys Boulevard. They always had a shooting gallery where real .22 caliber rounds were used and Jim and I would root through the sawdust on the ground in front of the counter where the rifles lay to find unspent bullets people had dropped. We always managed to find a couple or more. After all, we were kids and that was our job.

We would take those bullets to the tennis courts at what was then called Hazeltine Park and “aim” them at the houses on the other side of Costello Avenue, to the northwest. Then we would smack them with a hammer. Great fun was had by all until another friend and I were doing the same thing in his backyard and a piece of shrapnel barely missed taking out his eye, leaving a nice gash in his eyebrow. That was kind of the end of that.

We did lots of crazy-ass things, which I can only assume lots of kids do. We once put our hands on top of the entrance to a red ant colony just to see what would happen. That was a shocker, as I recall. We used to put lady finger firecrackers in oranges — remember, this was in the middle of the San Fernando Valley in the fifties; there were orange trees everywhere — and throw them like grenades. My first lesson, though I hardly realized it at the time, in physics came from the realization that wrapping the firecrackers in duct tape increased the explosive power of those little things. We were just trying to keep them from being so diluted by the orange juice they wouldn’t explode.

Years later, when we were around 14 or 15, my family had moved a few miles away and Jim used to come and visit for a day or two at a time. Two doors to the west they were still constructing the new location of the temple where I had become Bar Mitzvah and one of the walls was unfinished, with horizontal rebar sticking out of the ends. We bent the rebar and made it into a ladder so we could climb up on the roof of the building and run around on it. We played a game for a while where one guy would get a BB pistol and the other guy would get a head start. The idea was to aim for clothing but I’m certain Jim caught one in the ear once. Another damper to our childhood fun.

I could go on. The more I write, the more I remember things we did, and the more stories I could retell, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d rather take one last moment and relate why I feel so melancholy and how important this loss is to me. It’s true we hadn’t talked in something like twenty years. As we grew our lives went in very different directions. The last time I saw him was in his home in Glendale, AZ. He was married, working as a contractor, I believe, and they had at least a dozen cats in their house. I was able to spend a few hours with him during an evening I was in Phoenix on business. We talked a bit about old times. We were in our late forties and not yet disposed to reminisce too much. I would hear about him occasionally from Bob or his wife, Bonnie, but it wasn’t much and life kept moving along.

His death, though, leaves a special hole in my past, the kind of hole most of us end up having more of than we’d like. My grief is only marginally for him, more so for his family, but in large part for myself. It’s the same kind of hole others who played a larger-than-life role in my past have left as well, even if they were nowhere near as close to me as Jim had been. One that comes to mind is Richard M. Nixon. I despised that man and spent many years fighting to end the war in Vietnam when he was President. He played, although indirectly, a huge role in the years I came of age that I nearly wept when I learned of his death. Not because of him — I wouldn’t dream of weeping over his death — but I grieved for the passing, the irrevocable disappearance of my young adulthood and all that was attached to it. Before he died, I had something to hang on to; an artifact of that part of my life. With his passing, it was gone.

The hole I feel with Jim’s death is far more devastating and just a little difficult to deal with. Much like Nixon, as long as he was alive, we had our past and our years of friendship. There was always the possibility we’d see each other again and have some laughs, maybe a beer or two. Now that possibility is forever gone. I have often written about death. It fascinates me. In the meantime, however, life goes on and I will too. I’m surely not the only person to experience these feelings. I just wanted to get them out and say a few words about, and in honor of, someone who was very special to me.

So, via con dios, Jimmy. You will forever live in my heart. We had too many good times and meant far too much to each other for me to just let your passing pass. I will someday join you, as will we all. For now, I’ll content myself with remembering our friendship and take the most from it until it’s my time.

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An Eerie Sense of Loss

Wedding in the Grove

A really beautiful ceremony in the Avocado grove of the London home – Nipomo, CA

I attended a really nice wedding this past Saturday. The groom is the only son of a long-time, childhood friend. Amazingly, I never had the opportunity to get to know this young man. For numerous reasons, he just didn’t come into my life. Part of it was they lived on the East Coast during his early years and I never made it out there. There are surely other reasons, but I’ll be damned if I can clearly articulate them . . . at least not without straying from the message I want to convey in this post.

After the ceremony and after we’d all sat down and eaten dinner, the Best Man and Maid of Honor presented their toasts. They were good. Actually, they were excellent. Heartfelt, somewhat revealing, and occasionally quite funny. Afterward, they opened the mic up for anyone who wanted to speak and several did.

What was strange for me was I had this eerie feeling I wanted to speak. As I said, I know virtually nothing about the Groom. I have not spent more than a moment in his presence as far as I can remember. Of course, I didn’t (and wouldn’t) get up and take the microphone. I know what I was feeling was, in large part, about me – not him. However, in that moment I was reminded of how similar I have felt at funerals.

Now, before you think I’m getting all macabre, let me explain. I have written before of my feeling attending funerals of people I never had the opportunity to meet. The situation was somewhat similar – at least as far as the having never met part goes. I did not know the son of a long-time friend, someone who had been my roommate more than once. Someone I had spent many years with and with whom I shared dozens of friends. Someone who I feel very much is family.

As those toasts were taking place, and the Bride and Groom were being hailed and revealed, I felt a sudden sense of great loss, much like I have when listening to eulogies. I suppose that’s what made it so damned eerie – as they were very much alive and, in fact, at the very beginning of a special journey. I almost felt guilty.

I had my daughters with me, it was getting late, and we had a nearly three-hour drive ahead of us, so we left shortly after the speeches. Actually, although they wanted to go (it was also getting a bit chilly and we weren’t adequately prepared for it – mea culpa), they wouldn’t leave until they’d had a piece of the wedding cake. I managed to grab a cup of coffee as well. As we were leaving, I remembered something the Best Man had said. He talked about how he and the Groom had spent many hours discussing religion and politics. As we took our leave, I took the Groom aside and remarked about the reality we had never gotten to know one another. I also told him of the many hours I had spent with his father discussing religion and politics and how I hoped, perhaps, we could still get to know each other. He reminded me I have his cell phone number.

I don’t know if we’ll communicate much, but I hope we do. There are so many important things we miss in life, frequently because we’re a bit overwhelmed by all the little things that vie for our attention. I don’t like the sense of loss they bring. On the other hand, I’m reasonably certain this will continue in other ways. There just isn’t enough time and there are too many obligations we all face. <sigh>


Reflecting on Some Other Reflections

Two posts got me thinking today. I’m not usually one to see the year as abruptly changing when December rolls over into January; I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions and stuff like that and I am more prone to celebrate the Winter Solstice than to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. Yet, it is the end of a calendar year, and there is some sort of change that always seems to take place when the year rolls, so I thought I’d take a crack at looking back just a bit at the previous 12 months. Having said that,  I’d also like to look a little forward as well, but that will come just a bit later.

The two posts I’m referring to are by Andy McAfee and Susan Scrupski, two people I have come to know better this year due to my work as an internal evangelist on Enterprise 2.0.  Andy’s writings on E2.0 and Susan’s tireless work on establishing and greasing the skids of the 2.0 Adoption Council have made my job much easier. I have learned a great deal from them and expect next year to bring even more knowledge, enthusiasm, and innovative ideas and practices I will no doubt benefit from. The post I refer to by Andy is very upbeat and strikes an optimistic note. The one by Susan is more hopeful than optimistic, but is definitely upbeat. Nevertheless, they’re both wonderful posts that look forward to bigger and better things. You can read them here (Andy’s) and here (Susan’s).

This last year has been a year of transition for me. Our fairly new President (I’m talking about where I work, not the country) recognized the value of E2.0, as well as numerous other efforts I was engaged in, and began leading the company in a new direction at the beginning of the year. He even christened our direction PoWeR 2.0 (PWR is an acronym for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Since our main business is Rocket Engines and Energy Systems, PoWeR is a decent way to characterize who we are internally). In addition to E2.0, PoWeR 2.0 includes the continuing integration of Program  Management, Knowledge Management, and Enterprise Thinking, the latter of which is our approach to the Systems Thinking propounded by people like W. Edwards Deming, Russell L. Ackoff, Peter Senge, and Edward de Bono, to name a few. To my way of thinking it will ultimately (I can dream) result in a relatively holistic, portfolio approach to the management of the entire enterprise, ridding us of silos of knowledge and performance in order to more efficiently and effectively meet the challenges of a fast-moving and demanding economy.

This very positive direction came at a time when our parent company announced our merit increases would be postponed by six months and that we would be given five days of unpaid “furlough” during the year. To their credit, when the six months expired we were given increases and the furlough days were designed mostly to intersect with holidays so we would get four day weekends. The financial hit was also spread through the remainder of the year once the decision had been made. This made it a bit more palatable and easier to assimilate financially. For that I am grateful. I’m not blind to the difficulties of the economy and we’re in a sector that can be hit pretty hard. Frankly, I’m pretty happy to still be employed and have a challenging and exciting job to do.

This year I also managed to complete my Masters Degree in Knowledge Management at CSUN. For me this was a major accomplishment. Not only was I working 46 – 50 hours most weeks, but I also have two young children and I’m no spring chicken, having arrived in this world back in 1947. It was sometimes grueling work, especially the last trimester when all I wanted was to get on with my life and put more attention into what I was doing at work. Nevertheless, I now have another degree to add to my accomplishments. Maybe some day I’ll get a Baccalaureate as well.

I’m almost embarrassed to say I became a Cancer patient and survivor all within the space of less than a month. I say embarrassed because I didn’t suffer at all. I must admit to being a bit concerned when I discovered I had a malignant melanoma on my back, especially after doing a little research and coming across descriptions that referred to it as the deadliest form of Cancer. Nevertheless, it was caught early, surgery was successful (and proved it hadn’t metastasized), and the Doctor’s say the chance of recurrence is around 3% – less than the chance I’ll have a heart attack or stroke in the next decade or so.

So, for me this has been a pretty upbeat year – all things considered. My kids are healthy; my wife, though still unemployed, is doing a great job of organizing the children’s education and extra-curricular activities, and (for the most part) I’ve been pretty healthy. Now for next year.

I’m really looking forward to next year. I believe I will be involved in some very exciting and innovative activities at work and, through the 2.0 Adoption Council, will be learning more and more about how to help my company reap the benefits I believe the development of what Andy calls emergent social software platforms (here for more info) will provide for any company willing to work at their adoption and profitable use. I have made plans to attend the next Enterprise 2.0 Conference, though I have already been working on methods of using social software (like Twitter) to allow others to virtually attend many conferences and possibly provide for far greater participation while saving money on travel expenses.

If I don’t post before the New Year I wish everyone a wonderful, joyous holiday season shared with friends and family in relative peace and comfort, as well as a happy and healthy new year. BTW – Susan, 2010 is the end of the decade. It won’t be over until 2011, but who’s counting?


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