A blog friend is an anomaly–he or she may be someone you’ve never met, but over the years you might have seen each others’ souls just as much as any family. A different kind of family, of course. A blog family.
I first met Paul Warburton on a defunct blog site, in 2004.
We hit it off almost immediately, and I was taken with his blog-voice: gentle, compassionate, and weird as it sounds, always listening. You could almost see him listening, nodding, smiling in the words of his response.
My life changed soon after that, and I moved countries, but somehow, the connection remained. He stopped blogging, while I started this one in 2008. We exchanged emails. Postcards and letters. Gave each other writing challenges. His were filled with chatter and jokes, soft-spoken wisdom, mine often with existential angst.
It didn’t matter that I’d never been to Canada, or he to Asia, or that he was closer in age to my parents than to me.
We laughed, we planned collaborative writing projects, cheered each other through marriage (mine), partnership (his); new job (his), book publications (mine). Through it all, up until a few months ago, we plotted writing together, and now I wish I’d pushed and begged harder, years ago.
I thought we had time.
That’s necessary illusion, this belief that all will be well and continue as usual. Even through his cancer diagnosis. His long and fraught treatments that he still joked about.
Anyone can rant about a bad situation. It takes a titan to joke about them, and mean it, too.
We spoke of his recovery. We spoke of the plan for a call with him, his partner, his ninety-eight year old very-spry mother who he loved and spoke of in his typically understated way.
He read both my books, and was excited about the sequel.
This last week, I thought of him often, hoping to hear good news—that his latest treatment had worked. I meant to write to him today, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I did get a message from him this morning, only it wasn’t him, but his equally kind sister, who amid all her grief had found a moment to somehow dig me out, an intangible distant presence in his life, and notify me of his passing.
I thanked her and sent her my condolences.
Privately, my first response was rage, of course: at myself, at the Universe. Typical, but I’m me.
Visceral rage that he, a kind and gentle man should be taken from us while so many who cause nothing but harm should walk the earth. Tears, of course, as I told my husband. Through all the years of my marriage, my husband has heard often of this wonderful Canadian friend who was so full of kindness and insight, who I planned to visit when I first stepped on Canadian soil.
I had eighteen years to do it, yet here we are.
I’ve settled into this numbness that often threatens to swamp me each time I look at Paul’s emails, his blog comments, his letters.
Paul was inimitably Paul, self-deprecating and genuine, whether in his stories of the navy, of his various jobs, of his last job as a Metro Vancouver transit operator.
I remembered his joy in starting at that job, and dug up this email:
“The boy in me is having a wonderful time, since the trolleys operate like trains, except that the “rails” and switches are all overhead. It was super stressful going through the training, as it’s quite intensive, and the responsibility for other people’s lives and welfare is a bit daunting, but I’m settling in now and I’m “out there” enjoying it.” They’re behemoths and it was a bit like climbing into a 747 at first (in fact, they’re so electronic they even have data recorders) but I’m quite comfortable in them now. Best of all, there’s no homework in this job. All my life, except for the 10 years in the Navy, I’ve had homework of some sort chewing up my spare time. ….My only regret is that I didn’t do this long ago.”
They say you die only when someone remembers you for the last time, so Paul is a long, long way from there. He touched my life from so far away. I know I’ll think of him for as long as I’m given on this planet, as will so many others who knew and loved him in his real life.
Paul taught me about generosity of spirit, a willingness to learn and adapt, and facing suffering with fortitude and humor.
He had plans to start up another writing exchange with me, and I was looking forward to his ideas—only I got wrapped up in deadlines and didn’t check up on him the way I should have.
My husband says guilt is a negative emotion, that I should steer it to something positive. Truth, but maybe it will take an hour, a day, a week or more to get there. I’ll hold my loved ones a little closer– be it blog friends or family, and postpone fewer joys in life. I’ll make time for the connections that truly mean something to me.
In the meanwhile, I’ll read all of Paul’s letters, and possibly sign this off in Paul fashion:
Cheers for now, Paul. I’ll see you soon.
Gentle blog friend, if you and I have known each other via this space over the years, leave me a hello and a hug. Can’t tell you how much I need it today.
(And as I typed this, seated at a window spot at a cafe, a blonde little girl in a white and yellow dress knocked on the glass, grinned and toddled off. Her mother gave me an apologetic smile because she could see my face, and hurried off.
I don’t know what I look like right now, but I can’t help but think of Paul and his love for the freshness and joy of a white-and-yellow lemon meringue pie, which he spoke of often in his letters.)
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