My good friend Charlie and I found each other through blogging back around March 2006 – nearly 5 years ago – which in blogging terms makes us old, old friends. In fact we now share quite an overlap of blogging buddies, but it is lost in the mists of time as to who introduced who to whom (or is that whom to who?).
A few weeks after we started commenting on each other’s blogs, I put up a post about my experience of giving up smoking. In the comments he wrote, “Ah, Kim. I started smoking as a youth, although my Mom beat the hell out of me when she found out, but I never learned the lesson. And here I sit this morning, dying of emphysema.”
I had to look up emphysema and was rather horrified at what I found.
Not sure how to respond, I wrote, “I was caught by surprise by your comment and have sat here for quite some time, staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to respond: light hearted quip? sympathy and understanding? burst into floods of tears? And I can't think of how to effectively get away with any of them without coming across as really glib or trite.
“So I want to ask you, Charlie, what kind of response do find it easiest to hear? I don't want to cause offence, and I don't want to ignore it either, but my experience in the world hasn't equipped me for an appropriate response.”
Charlie’s reply was, well, pure Charlie - “Kim: I did put you in an awkward position--I have only mentioned my illness once on my blog, and I was reticent to do it then. Mainly because I neither like nor solicit sympathy.
“My lung disease is, like my past alcoholism, the result of my own bad decision-making: no one forced me to drink or to smoke. I accept the consequences of my behavior, and so should you.
“Perhaps a simple "I'm sorry to hear it", then, will suffice.”
Charlie doesn’t like outpourings of sentimentality and sympathy, he accepts the consequences of his past actions, and he’s happy to offer words of advice. If you can learn anything by not making the same mistakes he has, then the world will be a slightly better place.
Charlie is also a damn fine writer, and over time he began to influence the styling of some of my posts. I started experimenting with conversation pieces and opening posts with somebody saying or yelling something odd or unexpected. Little devices to make you want to read further. I started learning from a master.
However, Charlie was never a consistent blogger. He would write for several months and then disappear for long periods of time – usually just after I’d told someone what a great blog Charlie had and they should start reading him. Twice, at least, he completely deleted his blog and all its contents.
Aware now of his debilitating and degenerative illness, I was never sure whether these gaps were a sign that the worst had happened.
I once sent him an email enquiring if he was still in the land of the living, or words to that effect. Forever more this was referred to as the “Are you dead yet?” email, which seemed to amuse him no end. Irreverence rather than sentimentality has always been the basis of our relationship.
In many ways it seems bizarre I have never met him in person. It is a sign of the different and unique age in which we live that we can build up deep and powerful friendships with people who live thousands of miles away, and we have never heard their voice or even have much idea what they look like. And yet, with the power of email, instant messaging and blogging, Charlie has become a very close friend indeed.
2 years ago in an email exchange he revealed he’d been given a year to live, if he survived the winter.
6 months ago, we (his regular blog followers) were sitting with our hearts in our mouths waiting on reports from another of his friends, Wandering Coyote, who kept us up to date with Charlie’s progress as he’d been whipped off to hospital. Many of us feared this was the end.
I had a condolence card all ready to send to his wife, Martha, when word got back that he’d survived. I had to score out my message and put “Get well soon!” on it instead.
Well now Charlie has called it a day on his blog. Energy levels and eyesight have diminished to a point where keeping us all entertained is no longer possible.
So I would like to just raise my glass to Charlie and say a deep and heartfelt thank you for nearly 5 years of humour, pathos, entertainment, education and emotional support.