"If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
Get Right With The Man
---performed by Van-Zant
I have a confession to make.
Throughout this “epistle”, I have been making myself appear as Russ’ good friend. Depending on your definition of “friend”, I guess I was. But if you are a person who judges by one’s “final actions” rather than one’s “over-all performance”, maybe not.
Let me explain.
During the last six months of Russ’ life, I deliberately avoided Russ. The last time I visited his house was on New Year’s Eve, 2006.
(This isn’t the place to explain why – that is part of my life’s story. But it was my decision, and Russ honored my choice. And I can not honestly say that I would do anything differently, knowing what I do now - that Russ would die before I could re-establish our friendship. Because I did know that Russ had two heart attacks during that time. And yet I still did nothing other than send a few cards and books.)
So I hold myself responsible for letting our friendship fade through negligence on my part. Love can be unconditional and unrequited. Friendship is a two-person dance.
Maybe I was too complacent, figuring that things were okay, despite my lack of communication.
Maybe I was too presumptive, figuring that surely God would give us time to reconnect.
We did have one last chance to renew “old times.” I was delivering mail in a small strip mall, and he drove up in his 1995 black Chevy, with a load of groceries he had just bought. He offered me a cold Gatorade and a banana Popsicle. (Another common bond – we were both Popsicle junkies. And we both favored the root beer and banana flavors, along with the now extinct blueberry Popsicles.)
We talked for about forty-five minutes. Lots of catching up. Lots of stories. Lots of laughter. He told me about his heart attacks, and that he had lost weight, but he was still smoking Newports.
He told me that recently, he finally felt “at peace”.
I asked that meant that he was ready to die.
He said, “I’ve been ready to die since August 22, 1968. But I’m at peace with living.”
Too soon, though, we had to part.
“Mike, you better get back to delivering before some supervisor comes and catches you ‘delaying the mail’ on an ‘unauthorized break,’” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “And you better get the rest of those Popsicles in a freezer!”
He extended his arm across the interior of his car, and offered his hand.
And we shook. Then I asked him to pray for me.
That was the first time in over six months that I had seen or talked to him.
And that was the last time I ever saw him or spoke to him.
Ten days later he was dead.
There were others who stayed close to Russ during those last six and a half months. People from work. Members of his band. Personal friends.
And I’m grateful for the friendship and support and care they offered him.
I always figured there would be time.