Saying Goodbye to a Fellow Traveler
Thank you for opening up to me, a complete stranger, on a flight to Washington D.C. over 13 years ago. What must have seemed like a natural gesture to you had a significant impact on my life. I haven’t shared much about this experience except for with my wife, so I wanted to take a second and tell the universe about what our short time together meant to me.
Arnold Tesh, who asked even new friends to call him Arnie, sat next to me in first class on a flight to DC in mid-2001. He was a seasoned and successful businessman, a million-miler, in fact, with guaranteed first-class seating everywhere he travelled. I was a wet-behind-the-ears software consultant, who had barely squeaked in that flight for a first-class upgrade.
He was friendly to me and we started a great conversation about our careers, hometowns, and eventually we got on the subject of love. During this time I had been struggling greatly with a weighty decision. Should I, as a devout Mormon, embrace a serious relationship with a Catholic woman who I loved very much, or should I avoid the emotional distress to her, both of our families, and myself and end the relationship? When I started to hint at what I was wrestling with, Arnie took on the role of a kind, experienced counselor, and he began to relate to me his own love story.
He told me about how long ago he had been traveling to Mexico, and during his stay he met and fell madly in love with a beautiful woman. Though there were language barriers, so great was their love that they began to plan their lives together. The details are fuzzy due my own frail human memory, but here is what I remember:
- Arnie, a Jewish man, and his wife, a Catholic, initially married outside of either family’s tradition.
- This caused great upheaval within the families, and they petitioned for a traditional marriage.
- Eventually they worked together on a joint Jewish / Catholic wedding, in which both families participated, and a Jewish Rabbi and Catholic Father presided over the wedding.
He then shared with me how despite the obvious challenges of compromising and building a life together from two very different traditions, he had no regrets about pursuing the love of his life fully, even with reckless abandon. After he shared his story, he turned with a laser focus towards the situation I had described to him in my own life. As our plane began to descend into Washington D.C., the advice he gave to me still sends chills up my spine. Some people call it God, the spirit, the universe, etc, but what I can tell you is that by whatever name you call it, when you have an epiphany as you recognize the truth spoken powerfully, it is an unforgettable experience.
“Ben, do you love this woman?”
“Is she the one?”
“Ben, you get off of this plane and make your plans to be with this woman. If you don’t, you may live the rest of your life wishing you had. Everything else will fall into place.”
Arnie gave me his business card, and asked me to keep in touch and let him know if I needed anything. That was the last time I ever saw Arnie Tesh.
I followed his advice. Less than two weeks later, I was engaged to marry the love of my life. Without a doubt, there was a price that we paid in both families as we all struggled to come together and make sense of the chaos. 14 years later, I can tell you, Arnie, you were right.
Throughout the years, I emailed Arnie a few times to express my gratitude and share with him how things went, and to tell him about our children. I had the feeling recently that I wanted to again thank him and check in. Unfortunately, when I did, I discovered that he passed from this life in 2012.
To his wife and family, I offer my condolences, support, and appreciation.
To Arnie, I thank you one last time, for being a kind stranger to a young man on a flight to D.C. so many years ago.