12:43 p.m. - November 22, 2006
It was a tragedy. He had been at Wabash forever, but he still was young and had a lot of things left to accomplish.
I first met him my freshman year, when I, like other students, would take back textbooks that I no longer needed in the hopes that he would buy them back. Inevitably, we were sorely disappointed to get only ½ to 1/3 or even worse on some books, and then there’s the whole, “Oh, sorry, there’s a new edition coming out” which meant that book, in your hand, that cost you $60 and you read only 43 pages of, was now worthless.
He made an off handed comment about having some money for the trip home, and I said, “Well, I live here.”
He offered me a job, helping out in the bookstore. A job I kept for my four years at the College.
I stocked books in the summer. I TRIED to fold clothes. I did inventory. I was the music man, mainly. I kept track of the music inventory – did special orders – and worked with our distributor to be as trendy and hip as you could be in BFE land.
Upon my graduation, he gave me some advice. “Smed,” he said, as he knew that I wasn’t going to teach and was trying to find a job, “what you need to do is go west. You know what I did? I got a job looking out for forest fires in Montana. I took a lot of books and spent my time on a fire tower, reading and thinking about life. Then I came back here. That’s what YOU need to do, my man.”
I was a young buck with plans, so I listened to the advice, but didn’t heed it, and plunged right into a job that I probably wasn’t well suited for coming RIGHT out of college like I was.
So yeah, I probably should have listened to him.
But I always saw him around campus when I came back, and when I started to work here again we occasionally had discussions. The bookstore had changed a bit. It was all about the clothes now – and thanks to the internet they didn’t even sell music anymore. There were some books, sure, but most of the store was apparel.
Whatever sells, I guess.
He was a funny sort of fellow. He was deep into nature. He lived way out in the country and raised goats for milk, among other things. He had a long pony tail (which in the 80’s looked really out of sorts) and always dressed like a hippie to me. Heck, he was PROUD to be a hippie, I’m sure.
But I tell you what - he was also a sharp businessman who ran that bookstore with an eye on the bottom line. Yes, the college owned the bookstore, but you would have sworn that he actually owned it.
And yes, many students have actually sworn at him because they couldn’t get the price they wanted when selling back their books.
What compels me to write is this. I last saw him after work on the day before he died. I was at Kroger’s and in a rush to get home. I went to the u-Scan aisle and I saw him and his wife in front of me.
I thought to myself, “I need to get going.” So I walked by after I checked out without saying hi. He didn’t notice me, as he was engrossed in a conversation with his wife. They seemed to be having a good time with their grocery shopping. That’s great.
Then at lunch a colleague comes up and tells me the news.
Then I see it on our web site.
And I don’t know what to think.
At first, I’m all guilty. Because I didn’t say hi to him in the grocery store, and that was in the last 12 hours of his life.
I had no reason to feel guilty. It was his time to go, and chatting with him for 30 seconds wouldn’t have changed it.
The feeling then turned to sadness. I missed the last opportunity I had to talk to him. While he wasn’t a friend, per se, he was an interesting guy who always had a few things to say and an interesting way to say them.
I won’t have those chances anymore. I can’t walk into the bookstore office and hear the sounds of Dylan or Boz Scaggs and shoot the breeze for a minute about publisher’s return policies and how they have or haven’t changed. (That always got him riled up!)
I missed my last chance.
Then I started to think a little more. This sad event only reinforces that you don’t have much life to live – so you had better start living it.
And you better tell the people you love and care about how you feel about them. You’ll never know when your last conversation with someone will take place – or what the tone of it will be.
Finally, don’t have any regrets in life. Living a life of regret is worse than not living at all. Embrace your life – learn from mistakes – and figure out what’s important.
You only have one chance here on Earth, as this recent death clearly illustrated to me.