Thanks for your letter which I received 19 years ago. I think I replied at the time, but I’ve re-read your letter so many times, I can’t remember what I said, so I thought I’d send you this second reply.
I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your love for life, and the way you made concrete decisions to get out and explore the world. I loved your comment that you “flew out to Alice springs on a Friday and had a look around”. That’s so true to character of you – some place seems interesting, so why not go and “have a look around”? Alice Springs, The Rock, the Ghan, the Great Ocean Road, the Great Barrier Reef…. you were prolific. I remember you telling me once you wanted to go to Antarctica, and what surprised me most was that you didn’t actually get a chance to visit there – but you had a good excuse.
It’s taken me a couple of years, and I thought I’d lost it, but today I found a photo of you on your 41st birthday when you had dinner with us, which is why I decided to write to you today.
You once said to me that you thought that compared to what life was like a couple of centuries ago, these days we are often lucky enough to live several “life times”. I’ve often thought of that, and consider myself one of the lucky ones. I feel like I’m part way through my second or third “life time” and have been incredibly lucky to see and experience the things that I have.
Well most of the things. One of the events that still saddens me was when you died almost 15 years ago.
That really pisses me off, and I often think of all the stuff we missed out on sharing together. I raised a glass “to absent friends” a few weeks ago and thought of you. In fact there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t remember something about you.
Like how you were the last person to beat me in a game of chess.
How you could quote passages of Shakespeare verbatim and tell me why you loved his plays.
How I’d ask you a philosophical question and you’d answer in that County Kerry brogue with a twinkle in your eye, “God knows, Neil”.
How you’d never eat your bloody vegetables. No wonder you got stomach cancer. I hope you don’t mind but we tell our kids about that when they try to get away without eating veggies.
How I had a curry with you, and you selected a bottle of Galway Pipe Port as the wine to go with it – and we both finished the port that night – geeze my head hurt the next day.
How you had some magic power that could tell who had which card in a game of bridge – how the hell did you do that?
How you wore hiking boots with shorts – even when you were just making a casual visit – almost as though you were ready for a hike in case the opportunity arose.
How I paid you $5 to help me solve one of the questions in the “Tournament of the mind” competition, because I was too dull to work it out after several hours, but you solved it in a couple of minutes.
Most of all I remember the shock that made me feel like I’d been kicked in the stomach when I found out you’d died – almost a month after it happened, and I never got a chance to say goodbye, or to let you know how much I loved you.
You left a huge hole when you died, John. But if I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that while it was a tragedy for us, it wasn’t a tragedy for you because you lived well. You did everything (or most things) that you dreamed of doing. You looked at the world, and life, and delighted in it. You didn’t suppress your whims and you made an incredible impact on the world. So much so that even now I can hardly read this bloody page because my eyes are full of tears.
I’m so thankful Liz and I were able to visit your home village in Caherdaniel, meet your wonderful family, and see the house you grew up in. I enjoyed spending time with with a bunch of people who spoke like you, had the same quaint turns of phrase, and even looked like you. When I was with them it felt like I was with you.
Most of all I’m thankful for what you taught me – just by example: To live life to the fullest, and delight in every day.