Not So Imaginary Friends
March 15, 2006 would have been my friend Shannon's 40th birthday had he not died in a terrible accident in December of 2004. His mom had set up a memorial website for him and so a bunch of us went there on or about his recent birthday and posted some notes in memory of him.
I wanted to post something that reflected the nature of our friendship, just so I could remind myself not only of him, but also of how we had played with each other, goofing around with words and ideas and so forth. It didn't feel right to just say how much I missed him. I wanted to get down a little bit of what I missed. So here is what I wrote:
You still owe me $60.
OK, maybe you paid part of that $60 back already, I'd have to check, but whatever you still owe me I'll give you a pass on that if you'll be our guardian angel for a while. I don't know what the rates are up there, if it's by the hour, or what. You figure it out and let us know. You must know how much we could use guardian angels down here, so do what you can. Maybe you could make it your birthday present to all of us on your birthday. Kind of weird, I know, but endearing too. That's how we'll know it's you. Anyway, happy birthday, pal. I'm thinking of you today (and a lot of other days, too). And not just about the $60 part, either.
So then yesterday I get an envelope in the mail. Inside was a brief note along with a $50 gift certificate to Peter Luger's, a famous steakhouse over in Brooklyn. The note read:
As your guardian Angel I've noticed you're looking a little peaked and thin lately. It's nothing a good hunk of red cow meat won't cure so I've enclosed means for the best in my non-humble opinion. Besides, I need to earn my wings. Guardian angel rates are priceless so now you owe me, Pal.
And here's the part of this story that truly astonished me...
I'm not much of a magical thinking type guy. Well, I'm not any more guilty of it than your standard, run-of-the-mill Secular Humanist, but when I finished reading the note, just as I got to the part where "he" signed off with his initials "S.H.", for about three seconds I thought: "Is it possible he didn't really...? Is it possible it was all just a...? Is it possible he's still...?"
I swear to God. For about three seconds I actually wondered if it was possible that his being dead was just some horrible mistake or joke or hoax or something. Honest to God, for a few seconds it actually seemed possible.
A whole bunch of ways it could possibly be true that he was still be alive got thrown up in the air and were floating there, miraculously, swirling around my head. I could feel myself trying to plug something in somewhere to make the thing be real, like one of those old-fashioned telephone operators in movies where she's sitting there with a whole board of holes in front of her and she's holding a wire in her hand looking for a place to plug it in.
But there wasn't any place to plug it in, of course, and after a moment all of the possibilities collapsed and fell out of the air and landed at my feet. There was a moment of intense pain, a rerun of the moment when I learned that he'd really died, but then I laughed.
I have my suspicions of who did this wonderful thing for me. But rather than trying to track down the "culprit" and send a plain old "thank-you" note, I decided to go back to Shannon's memorial site and post the following:
Shanny: Got the G.C. for Peter Luger's. I was shocked, to say the least. This sort of Heavenly Intervention qualifies as a miracle, doesn't it? All you need is two more and you'll be on your way to beatification. I'm pretty sure there isn't a St. Shannon yet, so you're practically a shoe-in. Anyway, thanks again. I really appreciate it and will think of you as I tuck in.
And that is how I learned that in some sense you can keep playing with your friends even after they've died, and that by doing so you'll be reminded that while your friend might have gone away, your friendship hasn't.
And pretty much never will.