I first met Dr. Bob as a college intern in 1981. I was pretty sure what I wanted to do in my life at that point, but the internship served to confirm what I had already believed.
Dr. Bob ran a series of classes in the technical minutiae of my craft. Before I joined the group as an employee, I had the opportunity to take two of the classes at once. I found I couldn’t quite manage that (even as a 23-year-old, one’s energy is not infinite), so I stayed with the more advanced class, which Dr. Bob himself taught.
When I joined the group as an employee, Dr. Bob was my boss for about a year. From him I learned how to be professional and have fun at the same time, in a business which is deadly serious.
I left the company, and then returned in the 1990s as a manager. Dr. Bob was still there, this time as my subordinate. We worked together on a number of projects; for several years, I taught the classes he started. He retired from the group in the late 1990s, but stayed busy; I looked forward to meeting him at professional gatherings.
About two weeks ago, he passed away.
I normally don’t bother with funerals, but in this case I had to make an exception. Moreover, his son had called me, asking if I would attend the services.
The funeral was last Wednesday. When the church service began, I shut off my phone, resolving to live in the moment until I was back on my way home.
His son and daughter told the story of a man who had lived his life in full. He had faced cancer a few years ago: he lost weight but came back looking better than before. More recently, he faced another serious illness: he could have accepted the treatments, which would have precluded many of the things he loved to do. So he spent a last, peaceful few weeks at his summer home: the alternative, to him, would not really have been living.
One of Dr. Bob’s friends read a quote from Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life….
I was not as close to Dr. Bob as many of those present, but I knew that this was how he lived his life. It seems so different from the modern trend of pointless thrill-seeking under the banner of ‘You Only Live Once.’
We went to the cemetery, where we tossed back a shot of whiskey and said our final goodbyes, and then to lunch. Dr. Bob loved oysters: his son, who made the arrangements, made sure that we had plenty. I had interesting discussions with Dr. Bob’s son, his in-laws, and some of his friends. I was surprised, though, that I seemed to be the only person from Dr. Bob’s professional life who showed up. (Many of them had visited at the wake, but none at the funeral itself.)
Perhaps the others were too busy.
But you make time for the things that really matter.