for my friend, Duane

Last Friday, August 8th, a dear friend and close colleague of mine died of esophageal cancer.  He was just a few years older than me. This afternoon, many of his students, co-workers, and friends from the GFS community gathered, in the manner of Friends, to sit with our loss, grieve together and share. These are some thoughts that I was moved to share.

When I first began teaching at GFS Duane taught private guitar lessons. As time passed, we both took on more classes, and our paths crossed more frequently.  Eventually we spent a considerable amount of time teaching and planning and making music together. Duane liked to come rummage around in the storage closet in my classroom. It’s an abyss treasure trove of assorted music manuscripts and books, donated to GFS long ago. He would always come out having found something amazing. No one else had the time or passion to dig around in there. One day he came out with two green hard-bound collections: Beethoven’s nine symphonies for 4-hands piano. He was so excited. We sat down immediately and after trying a bit of no. 5 and no. 3, decided on the Pastoral, no. 6. We had so much fun playing it together.  At that point, my piano chops were better than Duane’s – but not for long. Duane could do anything. New instrument? No problem. New language? How about 3 of them…simultaneously. Duane didn’t just ‘kind of’ learn to play the piano. Duane pursued the piano with extraordinary diligence, and in a few short years he was accompanying the 7th and 8th grade choruses with me.

I had big plans for Duane. When my own kids would inevitably ask to study drums and guitar in a few years, I was going to say: “Well, I know just the guy.” Duane was not just any guy, he was the best guy.

We live each day with the underlying assumption that the people in our lives will always be there. Without consciously thinking about it, we have plans and dreams that include them and we expect that they will be some of the people who pour into our children’s lives and enrich our own. Now, those expectations hang in mid-air, plans with no possibility of realization. While we are left with many happy memories and wonderful stories about a full and vibrant life, we are also left with grief: reconciling the way you thought things would be with the way things are.  That will be an increasingly difficult reality to face as September approaches.