[EDITOR’S NOTE: This week’s column is a rerun, as Dave Markwell is still recovering from an amazing 4th of July:]
This week’s column was especially challenging to get a bead on. My original idea involved my family’s dinner time discussion on “courage” and I was reminded of my son’s second grade talent show performance that involved him demonstrating his deep karate prowess, while some rather pingy oriental music played in the background. He tag-teamed the martial arts with another kid and as my son moved to the back of the stage to await the other “artist”, he fell off. It was fast and looked a lot like a magic trick. Amidst the gasps and chuckles, he reached his seven year old hand to the stage deck, then the other hand came up and he climbed back on. He walked straight to the middle of the stage, tightened the orange belt on his dusty black gi and bowed his best karate bow to a stunned and packed elementary school gymnasium. It was the coolest thing anyone has ever done and there has never been a more proud Dad in the history of Dads.
While my son’s courageous act was, in several ways, impressive, it paled in comparison to the fortitude expressed by my old college buddy, Johnny B. Johnny B. died this week after a long, brutal battle with brain cancer. His struggle was well-documented and his grace and strength and love for his family were truly inspiring. Though I haven’t seen or spoken to Johnny B. since our college days together, my profound sense of loss at his passing was undiminished by our distance. Some people stick with you. Some people are so remarkably alive that they should not die. Johnny B.’s death is the world’s loss. He laughed easily and made everyone around him feel good. His humor and fantastic energy were contagious and he infected many people. He was, in a world of much unkindness, very simply, kind. He was the best this world can produce.
So, this week I have struggled to bridge the gap between my son’s courage and Johnny B’s. I have been torn between my pride in witnessing a wonderfully memorable personal moment and understanding that my friend will no longer be witnessing these terrific things. This sadness is more than a feeling. It is almost a taste. It is tangible. I am forced to think of other things when I ponder too long on his family and the incalculable loss they have suffered. It breaks my heart. My conflict has not been in trying to compare my son’s life and Johnny B’s death. They are incomparable. My conflict has been in whether or not they belong on the same page. I suppose my conclusion has been that they do, because life does not have different pages. It is a single, joyously excruciating, working document, a scroll, with nothing as simple as a page turn to separate the good from the bad. It is one. And sometimes it is too short.
Other than this, I have experienced no illuminating epiphany concerning life other than to be tremendously grateful for mine. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am grateful for each day on this earth that I have been blessed with. I am grateful to have known Johnny B. and I will be forever. I am thankful for the opportunity, at least today, to have more moments. I am thankful for all of this and much, much more.
As I worry a little bit about whether or not expressing my gratitude for my life in the wake of Johnny B’s death is appropriate, I think that it is. Johnny B. was a giving, caring, laughing lover of life and I think he wouldn’t mind too much. It’s just the kind of guy he was.
Mark Twain said, “Live so that when you die, even the undertaker will be sorry.” Well, this week, the undertaker is sorry.
[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, you can “friend” Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]