The Plus One

Grief is a capricious beast. It lingers for an inexplicable time, fading and roaring back in the most unpredictable fashion. I was once skilled at handling the grief ocean. I could compartmentalize the most intense tsunami of emotion reducing the wave to a mere ripple. In the somewhat distant past, I did this on the regular. Loss was an unwelcome, frequent visitor and it's plus one was always grief. Grief was the guest that stayed well beyond the end of the party. I learned to put on the gracious smile of a host while waiting for the exit I felt was long past due. I lost a friend this week. Loss and grief unexpectedly showed up once again, hand in hand, on my doorstep with my shattered heart in tow. They also brought the realization that I've been neglectful.

I first met my friend as a member of his audience. He was on stage spouting all manner of inspiration, exuding the confidence of his role as a leader in our organization. He was charismatic and engaging. He was very Old Hollywood. Several years later, I had the opportunity to work with him directly. I discovered he was also kind, warm-hearted, intelligent, and quite a good teacher. He had an easy manner and was talented at bringing people together. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with him one-on-one. He not only made me better at my job, he made me a better person. When our paths took us in different directions, he stayed in touch. His messages of encouragement were somehow always aptly timed and invigorating. Separated by time, distance, and life, my friend was still teaching me, subtly pushing me to get better and telling me that I am extraordinary.

He, in fact, embodied extraordinary. I am beyond grateful to have known him and count myself as fortunate to have had the opportunity not only to learn from him, but to laugh with him. Grief may well be unwelcome, but the depth of my sadness is a tribute to who and what he was - a remarkable person gone far too soon who left his mark on all he encountered. The news of his passing spurred numerous conversations with people with whom I haven't spoken since our return to the mainland. In the last several days, I've shared tears and laughter with people I should have called months ago. In classic Mark fashion, he is still bringing people together, reminding me that people are always most important.

Salut, my friend. Be at peace. I will always remember to keep people as my focus, never forget what you taught me, and celebrate every 4th of July with charcoal in the grill.