Saturday, December 12, 2009


It was a strange and eerie message that arrived on my cell phone. I was walking along the river enjoying the autumn sunshine.


I read it quickly and stuffed the phone back in my pocket. Another insistent beep. New text message:


The only Craig I’ve ever known is my friend who died of brain cancer six months ago. My birding buddy.

Ok, I know. Wrong number and all that. Just a coincidence.

I called my wife and told her about the messages. “Creepy,” she said, and asked me when I would be home. I told her about 3:30, “unless Craig picks me up before then.” I promised to drive carefully and did.

Craig never showed up, of course. He’s gone for good. Poof! Nothing but a memory.

The next few days I thought about an old question: What would you do if you knew it was the last day of your life? I had that put to me in a college freshman English class. I wrote that I would go trout fishing. At the time I was living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and did a lot of trout fishing. More to the point I knew my professor was an avid trout fisherman. It got me an A but I still don’t know if I gave an honest answer. Who could say what they would do, especially at 19 years of age?

Once you turn 60 you think a lot more about death. Part of that is the age; the math is not that complicated. Part is having the luxury of more time to think about such things.

When I was little I figured the one good thing about dying was that when you got to heaven you could get all your questions answered. Sort of a “Google in the Sky.” If true, Craig now knows what caused the brain tumor that killed him. Whether there really are any ivory-billed woodpeckers still alive. How the universe was created. What his wife is going to do without him. Think of all the mysteries God could clear up for you. If it were true.

Instead there’s just this: a moment in the universe. The sound of your feet shuffling through fall leaves. The sun sparkling on the river. A guy talking to his dog (a rottweiler wearing an orange jacket) like it’s a kid: “What are you doing? You can’t just run up to people like that.”

Then the moment passes and it’s only a memory. Eventually even the memory fades away.

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