Reaching out to my readers in a time of need

I had a pretty clever column planned out this week, on the smorgasbord of sports entertainment available to us fanatics this time of year, but I was greeted with news Wednesday morning that kind of threw things into disarray for me.

I know what you’re thinking: He finally had a clever idea and now he’s not going to use it?

I’m with you. Trust me. I wish I could come up with something I’m proud to have my name and 10-year-old photo attached to every week, but the fact of the matter is I’m just not smart enough or creative enough to create an idea every ...

But I digress.

I was greeted with news that one of my oldest and closest friends had passed away early Wednesday morning. To make matters worse, I was given this news by his wife — a strong and amazing woman whom I met with my friend the night they were first introduced, and someone I always knew would be there to take care of and love him. And she did. She always did.

Originally, when I decided to change the subject matter of this column, I was going to basically write an ode to him. He was a young man of 19 when I met him at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., and we both later celebrated our respective 21st birthdays together at one of Jacksonville’s seedier establishments.

We served together in the United States Marine Corps and were members of the same four-man fire team in the Middle East during the first Gulf War. Over the years, we have stayed in touch through letters and phone calls, before traveling the information superhighway together through e-mails and instant messaging. His fantasy football team beat mine two weeks ago, and I was greeted that Tuesday morning with an email that contained a picture of his bare backside for my troubles.

So, yeah, we were pretty close.

As I sat down to write this, I found that my typically-cluttered mind was more cluttered than a typically-cluttered mind should be. I wanted to share with all of you how funny and smart this man was, and how he would bomb me with Facebook messages when I would write a column he generally disagreed with, for one reason or another.

But I thought about it more and realized that wouldn’t accomplish anything at all. I was trying to plan the paper Wednesday morning with this cluttered mind of mine, and I started to think about where I might put the obituary listings, and it hit me more than ever that none of us are immune to the pain of losing a loved one, and certainly we all feel that sting more than once through our lives.

It comforted me in a strange way to know that I wasn’t sitting in pain by myself — but then it made me feel guilty that I was somehow wrapping myself in the security of the pain of others. It was a narrow-minded view I was using to see the world, and I was feeling almost ashamed.

So, where to go?

I told our publisher Susan Lyons the news when she got in, and she told me to go home. I knew I was just not strong enough mentally to finish the paper, but I also knew that I had to write this. I had to get out some thoughts. I had to feel like I was doing something, but I also knew that no matter what I wrote here, my friend was not going to come back to me and I really wasn’t going to do anything to ease anybody else’s pain, either.

So, basically, I thank all of you for the opportunity to just get out some random thoughts here, and allow me to work through this the only way I really know how — by writing. We share a lot together in these opinion pages, between your letters and my thoughts, and I feel a bit of a kindred relationship between myself and our readers.

Maybe one of you is reading this right now and thinking, “God, that’s exactly how I felt when I lost someone.” And maybe that helps you. I truly hope it does, from the bottom of my heart.

But I do know for a fact that writing this has allowed some of these thoughts to stop bouncing around my skull, and I can’t thank you enough for that.

If you’re having a cocktail or two this weekend, tip one back to a fallen Marine if you think about it. I’ll be doing the same.