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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Remembering Tom

The first time I ever travelled by airplane was in November of 2001, just weeks after the horror of September 11th. I was to fly alone to Denver, Colorado where I would meet up with my sister’s family and venture on to Hawaii.

I was excited about the trip, but as it approached I became nervous, too. The nightly news was filled with scary images of heavily armed military in our nation’s airports even as details about the 9/11 terrorists emerged. Constantly changing rules about what was and was not allowed on planes had me scrambling to reassess and repack. Stories of frustrated travelers pulled from planes after making ill advised comments had me vowing to stay silent for the entire trip.

Finally, the morning of my flight arrived. Before sunrise, I checked my luggage one last time and sat down to wait for my ride to the airport. A movement at my kitchen window triggered the motion sensor light over my back door, startling me. Peeking in my kitchen window with a big happy grin was my friend Tom.

I never told Tom I was nervous about my trip, yet there he stood at 4:30 in the morning, ready to say a blessing for my trip and give me a hug. Before he left he told me, “Don’t be scared. You’re going to have an amazing adventure.” And I did.

Tom was the kind of friend all of us hope to have and most of us would like to be. He never forgot a birthday. When I was sick he would drop off homemade chicken dumpling soup from a neighborhood bistro, leaving the steaming bag on my front step and running back to his car after he rang my doorbell. He would watch to make sure I retrieved it before waving and driving off. Full of wisdom and funny stories, Tom always seemed to know what to say to leave you smiling.

When Tom got cancer it seemed just too unreal. Here was this strapping, energetic man – how could he be sick? He insisted on driving himself to his chemo appointments. The “if there is anything we can do” offers went unanswered. Later, when the cancer was in remission, we all said, “I knew he’d be okay! He’s too young for cancer. He’s too strong.” Ridiculous, I know, but sometimes you tell yourself lies so you don’t have to face the unthinkable.

When the cancer came back, the lies continued: “He beat it before, he’ll beat it again!” "Who cares if the doctors said there was nothing more to do? Doctors have been wrong before." But the cancer didn’t listen to the lies. Very early this morning, when fog thick as a veil swirled through the chilly air, Tom's weary heart tapped a final beat, and he died.

My friend Tom, world traveler, has embarked on his most amazing adventure ever.

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