JIM CORMIER and I grew up together in Fitchburg, MA. I met him in the school yard when I was 12 putting together a neighborhood ice hockey team to answer the challenge of a rival neighborhood. Jim had charisma, looks, and talent. He was one of our better skaters and goal scorers. But Jim was not a scrapper; it didn’t fit his personality.
I had met his dad, Bunny, when I was five. He was the “Mail Man.” Bunny was great with kids, always telling jokes, and doing little magic tricks that baffled five year olds. But he was good with the adults, too. He was -debonair with the ladies, and always had the latest sports scores for the guys.
Many years later, at 65, Bunny got sick a month before retiring from carrying mail all those years, up and down the hills of New England. He died a month after retiring. All the plans his wife and his son had made were for not. Jim was 40 when his dad died.
I don’t remember the rival hockey game (we lost), other than our team was obviously from the other side of the tracks. But a friendship had been forged between Jim and me, and we hung out a lot together in front of the street hockey net. He was my standard to getting better at hockey to eventually reach my goal of playing for the NHL…someday.
As I began running high school cross country with the sole purpose to improve my hockey game, Jim also followed. As he was better with a stick and a puck, I was better at running. He played a higher level of hockey than me playing on home teams where strict penalties were enforced. I drifted toward the much rougher, traveling, bush leagues where anything went.
After school, he went to U-Mass, I joined the Navy and went overseas. Years later, I was the lone musician at his wedding, and even later, heard his wife was pregnant with their first born before he did. I had decided I was bad at relationships and therefore, was going to forego being married. Jim didn’t remain active, taken up with the task of raising two daughters, and work. This past spring, his oldest graduated from high school. She will attend a college in New York City.
But also this past spring, at the urging of his wife, Jim got the first physical of his life. He’s over 45. He gave me a call in April. We chatted nonchalantly about music, sports, and our respective lives. Then he told me about having a physical. “Yeah, you know Lee [his wife],” he said. “She just wouldn’t let it go. So I went.” The phone went silent. Jim has a heart problem. More shocking was he had had a heart attack, sometime in the past.
Zeus fell to Earth. The pedestal Jim was on, crumbled.
More tests are required. And he is to DEFINITELY not run.
After our phone conversation, which ended rather awkwardly, I thought, I wrote Jim an e-mail. “Thanks for the phone call the other night. I sensed you have become more aware of your mortality. I understand. Through several happenstances of my own that I have had the grace of God to live through dating back to junior high, I understand.
“We stand together then, you and I, to face what it is we must face. Though neither knows how or when, we do know one day we both shall pass. We may joke about it (I tell Janalou there’s a bus out there with my name on its bumper!), or we may get morose about it, living life in a much more negative terms. Neither of these will change the fact we will die. Our heart will stop pumping and the air from our lungs will leave. Then, all that we have done, and all that we are known for, will be over. The cover will close, the story of our life, over.
“But what about the meantime, what are we to do before ‘the end?’ Everyone has an answer, it seems. I don’t have any answers. Only what I feel. You have kids that expect you to still be their parent, showing the way, and being an example. Me? I’m carrying on, doing what I can, and as much as I’m able. That includes reading, writing, learning, and just as importantly, being active; loving friends and family, meeting new people, and yes, getting out of my comfort zone from time to time. In a sentence, I want to live life,…even more.
“When the conversational question ‘What would you do with all the money in the world?” was raised among family conversation growing up, my answer usually baffled my folks and made my brother and sister think I was a dork. But, 50 years later, I wouldn’t change my answer. I said I would go to school to get as many degrees as possible so I could learn as much as possible, and therefore, help the world, its people, and myself with its problems. How does that saying go? Live like you’re going to die tomorrow; learn as if you’re going to live for ever.
“Here’s to heart attacks in the night. C”
The following was sent to me:
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth. And now only those who loved her know what that line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own; the cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard, are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left.
If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real, and always try to understand the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy’s being read with your life’s actions to rehash would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?