I lost my breath today. Just for a few moments. Death can do that to a person.
Death is not something new to me, seen it close enough. Still, it always makes me pause to think whenever it shows up to remind us of mortality. Should do that to everyone once in a while. Not being morbid or wanting to cast dark clouds over any one’s head but share a few thoughts about life and living.
A fellow I knew as a child, not a best friend but we did grow up in the same neighborhood for years until going our own way in life. He eventually got married, had a couple of kids. Now he worked for the internet provider in my area. Last time we had an opportunity to talk was about two years ago, in my basement, over my internet connection speed. The poor fellow became quite exasperated with me because I’m suborn, especially when I think I am right.
“No way I will set the line at full speed. It’s just not going to work,” he said.
“But, it always worked before.” I moaned, knowing I would lose.
“No, it didn’t. You were probably dropping packets all the time. So, the slower speed will make fewer errors. Which means better downloads.” he assured me with convincing hand gestures of bits of data falling into nothingness.
“But it always worked before.” I insisted with all the authority of years of IT experience.
“I know what I am doing. Trust me.” And so I did. Or rather, I acquiesced, for now.
We spent an hour or more reminiscing about the times when we were kids. Just like people do when they run into each other years later. Talked about his marriage ending, and the pride over the two girls, how well they grew up. The tone of his voice betrayed his ‘everything in life went as planned.’ Working as a technician was not where he wanted to be, he felt old and wanted to do anything else other than climb another telephone pole. Nothing wrong with the line of work. He always wanted to be a draftsman, but unforeseen events kept him from that path.
We did the same thing everyone does, promise to get together and have a catch-up drink that never seems to happen. I did think about it a few times in the months to come, especially when we passed in the coffee shop parking lot, him in his tired looking van and me zipping along late for my work.
After he had left that day, I called the company and had them turn my internet back up to max speed. It worked just fine, for years, until a few days ago when the line dropped off into ancient dial up speeds. The service desk did the usual unplug the modem, plug back in then try the speed test yet again, only to finally announce after 30 min of time wasting to agree I need a technician to visit.
“Yea sure, ok when, next week is crazy busy,” I said.
“Tomorrow afternoon is OK?” the young fellow said with a snarky tone.
“OK. Make it so.” My mind immediately went to wondering if my old friend will be the technician again. The thought gave me a smile.
Today the technician arrived in the time predicted. It wasn’t my old childhood friend. The chap got to work right away after me explaining what he already knew and patiently waited for me to get it out of my system so he could get on with the job and go home early on a Friday.
“It’s the modem.” He said with absolute confidence, then showed me his cell phone with a screen full of test numbers. “The signal is perfect. Your modem needs replacing.”
“You have one, right?” I asked. If I had a tail, it would be wagging.
“Yep.” He smiled in anticipation of having a happy customer, and then got the new one from his truck and proceeded to change things around.
“So, have you been working out here long?” I asked.
“Yep. About a year now.”
“Oh. It’s nice here in the summer. Where did they put Brian? He used to be up here. I saw him a while back, we argued over the speed. You’re not going to downgrade my connection are you?” I asked.
“He’s dead. Brian died a year ago. Cancer.”
“Because I need all the bandwidth I can….” I stopped in mid-sentence, my mouth hanging open. The room went cold. I felt the wind leave my lungs in an audible exhale.
“Are you OK?” the technician asked me several times. It felt like a long while before I breathed again. I saw Brian’s broad smile in my mind’s eye.
We talked for a while as he finished up installing the new modem. Brian took early retirement, went into the hospital and died in a few months. I did not know. I felt really bad for not knowing, for not taking the time to seek him out and have the drink for old times sake. I let me being busy get in the way. The technician completed his work, then shook my hand warmly. I thanked him for telling me. He apologized for springing the news on me so abruptly and left me with my internet in perfect working order.
Death is always sad, painful, complete and never should be taken lightly. Sometimes it just happens, and we do not understand. Sometimes we see it coming, and can’t avoid it.
I spent an hour feeling sorry for my own losses in this life. Brian is gone, and all that he did is just history now. His family will do as family’s do in remembering things about him. Just as I do for mine.
There are no grand wise words to end this bit, no cool sayings to quote from a sage, no going on about lessons in life. We know what to do to prevent death from taking the wind out of our day.
Live your life, every day, in all the ways you can.
Footnote: When I looked for a picture to add, I came across the one above. Its kind of spooky, as it reminds me of Brian. Goosebumps.