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Circa 2020

A Proper Sendoff

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Dear Humans of 3020 AD,

With science and medicine accelerating at a dizzying rate even today, it is not inconceivable that death is as archaic a notion to you in your time as ritual human sacrifice is to us in ours.

Part of me certainly hopes so ... a sentiment made all the more keen this week as I grieve the sudden loss of a friend l have known and loved for thirty years.

When a loved one dies today, particularly if young or in unexpected fashion, it shakes our foundations. Cool logic, mature perspective and intellectual understanding of death as the natural process we know it to be—the yin to life's yang—is shattered, exposed, undone. For a time all is upside down, the fabric of our lives torn apart ... and what we see peering back through the hole unnerves us as nothing else can.

Strangely, part of me also hopes you have not conquered death, at least not completely. Because for all the grief, as we slowly emerge from its immediacy we are also reminded just how delicate is the thread separating the living and the dead, so that what is unnerving can also become life-reaffirming, energizing, ennobling.

It brings a focus nothing else can.

This too is perhaps a quaint, archaic notion to you, but I hope if you have conquered the agony of permanent loss, it has not been at the cost of raw feeling, or the cost of emerging from the other side of it with a renewed appreciation for the time still in hand.

To the matter at hand.

I lost a friend and brother this week … a man who with whom I connected the moment we met as young men not yet twenty. Ours was a "natural" friendship; it did not require an accumulation of shared experience. It barely required words. From the first handshake, we had known one another forever.

And now he is gone ... and I am keenly aware that with his passing begins the slow, inexorable process of his being forgotten. Oh, I won't forget him. And his friends, wives and children certainly won't forget him.

But time will. It is inevitable.

You will not know Bruce Smith, not any more than those of us alive today know the dust that lies beneath some barely legible headstone in some long-forgotten burial plot in some remote place where “just another man” was buried a thousand years ago.

Because like all but an immeasurably small percentage of the billions of human beings who have lived and died since our species first looked at itself reflected in a pool of water, and realized the face looking back was our own, Bruce Smith did not leave behind achievement on an historic scale. He did not conquer half the world. He conceived no civilization-altering invention. He crafted no universally recognized masterpiece. He was just a man.

But what a magnificent piece of work he was.

I don't ask or expect anyone who did not know this man—in my time or yours—to cry for him. Nor do I ask anyone else to experience the knot in the gut and lump in the throat his friend and brother sits here with today, slowly coming to grips with the reality that his friend is really, truly, forever gone.

But I would ask that you let him into your life, if only for a moment.

What was special about Bruce? Nothing. And everything.

He was a big man. Big in size, big in heart, big in personality. He had big appetites for many things ... things that, at times, were left to themselves to dictate when enough was enough.

He was not an easy man; he had a stubborn streak as deep as his heart was big, a fierce independence that often ran counter to the interests of his relationships, his health, his life. And as the years passed his life sometimes got away from him.

But the child behind the eyes never faltered; the child-like sense of wonder never faded. He may not always have been able perceive his flaws reflected in the eyes of his people or his world, but he was as forgiving of the flaws in others, and as loyal a friend, as any man likely to have walked the Earth before or since.

Some men go through life waiting for it to happen. Others charge through it full throttle, hair on fire, beating their chest with a twinkle in their eye, talking too loud, roaring ahead heedless of the furniture crunching underfoot, living, loving, laughing and crying ‘til the day their final sun comes up.

That was Bruce.

And now I have one last thing to do for him.

The music that played at his memorial service, sad and beautiful though it was, was not the music one friend once asked another to send him off to, should the day ever come.

I wasn't able to set him ablaze in a wooden warship along a deserted shore somewhere, while our little band of brothers leapt about singing at the top of our lungs marking his passing, as I know Bruce would have liked ... particularly had we been drunk with laughter, tears and a fine southern whiskey.

But I will burn a candle here in my home tonight, and play him off with music befitting the man … music he would have wanted echoing in his ears forever.

I'll love you always, brother.


Bruce Sherwood Smith
1961 – 2009

Updated 02-18-10 at 01:39 PM by Om

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  1. Meteor's Avatar
    Very good, hombre. Very good.
  2. Neophyte's Avatar
    May each of us have such a friend as you when our time comes, Mark.
  3. Sasparilla Gretsch's Avatar
    I couldn't think of any better sendoff for a dear friend than this.
  4. Woofer's Avatar
    Yesterday, I drove through some of my old home town-area, and deep into the past. A flood of memories burst into my mind and I vividly remembered a friend of mine who died of Leukemia 13 years ago.
    He was the best friend I ever had, one of those whose friendship was almost instantaneous and deep seated from the start.

    I've never forgotten my friend and have frequent dreams of him; dreams where we are off on another (mis)adventure, or just doing the things that defined our friendship. Whenever I have one of those dreams, I wake up feeling like I had really spent time with my friend. And as was said of another famous friendship, "he's not really gone as long as we remember him".

    Dream well, Mark.
  5. Om's Avatar
    Thank you, Woofer (and everyone). From the depths.

    It's weird, after only a short time, I'm already finding him slipping away. Not in terms of the depth of the feeling when I do think about him, but in how quickly the frequency with which I do so is lessening.

    I guess it's the way it has to be though--if we mourned our friends and loved ones with the intensity of the first few hours and days 24/7, we simply could not live our own lives. So I'm not fighting it ... I know it's the natural course. And anyway, knowing Bruce, he'd have long since kicked my ass for making such a fuss in the first place.

    Maybe in my dreams.
    Updated 03-03-09 at 10:26 AM by Om
  6. Boone's Avatar
    Don't know how I missed this one. Here's to your friend Mark, because I know, having earned your friendship he had to have been one hell of a guy.
  7. DS's Avatar
    I never thanked you for this.

    It almost seems wrong to drag all of this back up after the dust has (somewhat) settled, but I wanted you to know that I appreciated this - so did my sister. I think it even brought a tear to mom's eye (and you should know how difficult that is to pull off where he was concerned). I tried to comment a few times, was just too difficult.

    Thank you for your words here, and also in you other blog. I read them, many times, and filed them away so that I would always have them. This is a much better tribute to him, and it's fitting that it comes from someone who knew him better than almost anyone else. You made me see him through different eyes, ones that saw through to the good things...and you made me realize that, just maybe, some of the good things in myself just might have come from him...

    So, thank you for writing this. I'm glad you were his friend through it all. With a life like the one he lived, a friend like you is beyond worth. I know that he would have never believed it, that you care as much as you do, but I know that he would have been sincerely humbled. And then he would have cursed you for humbling him.

    Best wishes.

  8. Om's Avatar

    Forgive me for missing this until now ... I have been inexcusably absent from this blog, site and part of my life for the past few months. No more.

    Your words here are not wrong on any level; they are life-affirming. They reach into a place I too infrequently visit these days, as my own children come to the age and place in their lives that I was when I first met your father. Thank you taking the time to share those thoughts--I know it wasn't easy.

    He was a good man. A troubled, conflicted, sometimes infuriating man, but at his core, an uninhibited lover of life, a friend, a confidant, and as trusting, open and accessible a soul as I have ever known. I hope he was able to share with you and Allison the love I know he felt for you ... that that is not conjecture, but fact. We shared many a long hour, your Dad and I, sharing spirit and spirits, talking about our lives, our dreams, our children and their dreams, and what they meant to us.

    The man loved as deeply as anyone I have ever known, and none more than you.

    I can't put myself in your place, obviously, but I think I can see it from here. So I said to you that day, please do not ever hesitate to call on me, for anything, at any time. To "be there" in that way is a promise I made to Bruce once long ago, and one it will be my honor and joy to be able to keep should the time ever come.

    Be happy, and believe that yes, there was good that came from him--I know you know it to be true. Wear it proud.

    Love always,

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