I’m quick to delete sappy emails from my inbox, especially the ones about friendship. It sounds mercenary, I know, but I get tired of reading mindless dreck like “friends come into your life for a reason, or a season, or to commit treason….” Or the equally insipid “it’s national friendship week. Forward this email to God and everybody or all of your hair will fall out and you will be trampled by chickens.” So I get rid of it and move on to the really important stuff, like how to get free Viagra online, or how to meet great singles in my area who are just misunderstood and were wrongly convicted. It’s enough to make you go back to actually talking to people face-to-face and writing letters on real paper!
It occurred to me this evening that those goofy friendship emails, so sticky sweet that they induce diabetic coma, are actually sent by well-meaning friends…people who actually care about me. (That or they are bald and afraid of poultry.) And much like anything else that is good in my life, I take them for granted. Not the emails, necessarily, but the friends who send them.
Cliff Bailey passed away today. It’s okay if his name is not familiar, since many of you did not know him. He wasn’t running for office, though he campaigned tirelessly on behalf of others. He wasn’t an Academy Award winning actor, but he had a winning personality and always acted like a gentleman. And he wasn’t one of the X-Men, his favorite comic book characters, but to many of us who worked with him, he was a superhero.
There is no way to capture the essence of a person with words. Their finer points elude us, and memory is a tough concept to versify. Our feelings lose something in the translation and transition from feeling to word. Even tonight, I can’t clearly picture Cliff’s face, but I can remember how I felt in his presence. It’s funny what you focus on at a time like this, walking across the abyss of initial shock to sinking realization. In my case, I am thinking about Cliff’s teeth.
Um, yeah. His teeth.
It is not enough to say that Cliff had the whitest teeth in the free world. I am sure that no one in the communist bloc had teeth as white as Cliff’s, either. There used to be a really stupid song from the ‘80’s, well, okay, there were MANY stupid songs from the ‘80’s, but I am thinking of ‘I Wear My Sunglasses at Night’. You might remember it. Auditory dorkiness. Anyway, I think the guy who sang it probably ran into Cliff somewhere, was blinded by the whiteness of his teeth, and then was forced to wear sunglasses. He later went on to write another stupid song, ‘Blinded By the Light.’
Okay, maybe not.
Cliff had a way of getting people out of their comfort zones. It wasn’t always about ‘strive, do more, reach for the stars’ kind of stuff. I mean, he could get you to do CRAZY walk-on-your-lips-across-hot-coals kind of stuff. One night just recently, I was going to our operations desk and Cliff was standing in the aisle nearby. He called to me, just as friendly and nonchalantly, so I bounded right over to him and then screamed! On the floor in the aisle was a long piece of dooky! Cliff just cackled at my reaction, and then I realized that it was a piece of unfortunately shaped chocolate frosting that had apparently rolled off of a cupcake and into the floor, where it served as hilarious entertainment for Cliff. Of course, not satisfied with just scaring me, he called one of our directors, Cassandra, and then laughed his butt off at the sight of her jumping straight up, ten feet into the air. I still don’t know how, or why, but he somehow convinced ME to scoop up the frosting poop and throw it away. What can I tell you, he was just hypnotic that way, I guess.
He had such personality, and a remarkable wit. And I wasn’t the only one drawn to him. He had so many friends. I can think of at least five people at work who would tell you that he was THEIR best friend. But you wanna know something? Well, yeah. They’re right. He was. He looked for good in people, and he usually found it because he expected to. Funny thing about expectations, though. They can be treacherous. I expected to go to work tomorrow and see Cliff. Just something that I took for granted. I was wrong, and I am just about as hurt and sad as I have ever been. I guess all of us who loved him feel that way. Of course, Cliff would just smile and say, “Just remember, Darlin’…you’re unique. Just like everybody else!”
I really loved you, Cliff. I’m sorry I took that friendship, that smile for granted.
You see, Cliff was truly unique, and very special. I miss my friend, even though, on some level, it just hasn’t become real. So I am going to spend this night with a glass of chardonnay and some memories, tears of regret, and prayers of thanks. And when I think that I just can’t cry anymore, I’m going to think of Cliff and all my friends, read those sappy emails about friendship, and cry out of sheer gratitude.