Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Friendship

Dear Mackenzie,

Nothing beats having a best friend.

Throughout the course of your life you’ll meet lots of people and call many of them friends.  Some friendships will be short-lived and some will be long lasting.  You’ll have some fair weather friends and some who will stay beside you in rough waters.  That’s just how it goes. What I wish for you, my sweet daughter, is that at some point you’ll experience a friendship like the one I had with Jeff Greer.

I met Jeff my first week of college. I walked into his dorm room late one night with my usual swagger, told him I was planning to run for Freshman Class President, and asked for his vote.  Jeff told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t have his vote.  When I asked him why, he said he too was running for Freshman Class President and intended to vote for himself.

A few hours, a few beers, and a few cigars later, we decided that maybe we could be better together than separate, and that we should run as a ticket for class president and vice-president. That night, a small political dynasty was born at our school. More wonderfully, that night gave birth to a profound friendship between Jeff and me that lasted more than thirty- five years.

Jeff had a beautiful mind.  He was intelligent.  He had a great sense of humor. He had an uncanny ability to explore an issue from all sides.  He loved people.  And he had a deep personal moral code and sense of justice.  

During our college years Jeff and I were virtually inseparable. We ran student government together.  We trolled the student union together.  We partied together.  We traveled together.  We came close to being arrested together (don’t ask). Everything seemed possible during those heady, exuberant days.

After college we didn’t see each other as much any more. I went to California and Jeff went to New England, and then to Florida, and then back to New England.  But our friendship remained strong.  We’d go through periods when we talked all the time, and then sometimes we literally wouldn’t talk for two or three years at a time.

The miracle of our friendship, other than Jeff’s great sense of humor, was that we could go several years without talking and then one of us would call the other and it was like we’d just seen each other yesterday. We’d talk about politics and about sports and about our lives. Our respective paths could not have taken us to more different corners, and yet we savored each other’s experiences as if they were our own.

Jeff called me once, shortly after he and his wife Nancy got married. Or maybe just after they had started dating seriously, I don’t remember the exact time line. In any event Jeff was living in Providence and working for the governor of Rhode Island while Nancy was living in Washington D.C. , or travelling a lot to D.C. for work, or something like that. 

All I remember is that they were apart a lot and it was troubling Jeff.  He was concerned that the distance and time apart was hurting their relationship.  “Jeff, you guys love each other very much”, I told him. “I’m sure you’ll be able to withstand some periods of separation”.

“Look at us”, I added. “Sometimes we don’t even talk for years at a time and our bond is as strong as ever”.  Without missing a beat Jeff replied, “but unlike us, Nancy is beautiful, intelligent, and charming. She has many more options than you and I do”.

About two years ago Mackenzie, you were in New England with the Broadway tour of Annie, and Jeff and his wife came to see you in the show. They were so tickled watching you on stage, and we got to spend a wonderful weekend with them.

Nancy and your mom were good sports, and pretended to be interested while Jeff and I reminisced about the good old days for the umpteenth time. We even had dinner with Jeff’s folks, who had been a second set of parents to me when Jeff and I were in college. I remember telling your mom that weekend how amazing it was to me that after all those years and all those miles, spending time with Jeff simply made me happy.

Shortly after that weekend Jeff and I talked about taking a trip together to talk politics, sports and life. The trip was just an excuse to enjoy each other’s company for a few days as we had done periodically over the years. But my job got too hectic; or I was too distracted; or something.  The idea dissipated and we didn’t go. I couldn’t know then that I would never see Jeff again. But God, I wish I had made the time to take that trip.

On the morning of my birthday, August 11, 2011, I got the terrible news that Jeff had died the day before. Eight months later, I am still numb to that fact and can’t believe Jeff is gone. I still get the urge to call him when my Indians beat his beloved Orioles, or when something crazy happens in politics, or when I really need a friend.

After Albert Einstein published the theory of relativity, someone supposedly asked him to explain relativity in layman’s terms. Einstein apparently said something like “the theory of relativity boils down to this: when someone is hitting you with a stick, a minute feels like a lifetime.  But when you’re with someone you love, a lifetime feels like a minute.”

For those of us who knew and loved Jeff Greer, it felt like too short a minute at that.

All my everlasting love,


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