“Can’t do pizza: visiting Bill at hospice b4 session.”
I stared blankly at the message on my phone for several seconds before I typed a reply:
“Why is Bill at hospice?”
The reply took a few minutes. “Throat cancer. Cya at session.”
I’d only been away for three months, and Bill had been fine when I’d left. That message exchange was on Tuesday; we played music at his wake that Saturday. And despite having played music with Bill every Tuesday evening for years, I learned more about him at his funeral than I ever had at our weekly music sessions.
As I sat at the wake, playing Irish tunes with the others, an unpleasant realisation dawned: I barely knew the other musicians either! Fortunately, that was easily solved: I started inviting them over regularly for shared dinners. I wanted to get to know my friends while they were still alive.
Every few weeks when I’m home, we get together at my place for a pot luck dinner. The rules are simple: no music, no electronics, no internet, just talking, and all topics are fair game.
We’re from very different backgrounds and rarely agree on anything. Even when we do agree, a few of us play devil’s advocate, just for fun. When we find interesting people, we invite them along too and the discussions are energetic and wide-ranging.
Being unable to resort to the internet to look up facts to support our side of the debate takes us back to the good old days where we actually had to know what we were talking about; failing that, we fall back on personal anecdotes and wild speculation. There’s usually a flurry of email for several days afterwards, as we all fact check ourselves. And it’s wonderful.
There’s a relief in being able to talk to people face-to-face. There’s a freedom in understanding that it’s okay to disagree, and that as long as we all have the same basic values, it’s possible to still be friends.
As a seafarer, I’m often away from home. Whenever I leave, I make sure that I say the important things that need to be said, have the difficult conversations, and finish off any other unfinished personal business. When I’m facing an emergency at sea, I don’t have to waste energy on thinking of the things I wish I’d said.
Another folk club member died of cancer just before I left home this time. As with Bill, I learned more about her at her funeral than I did when I was volunteering alongside her, and as with Bill, I wish I’d got to know her better. I can’t change that, but I can use it as a reminder to myself not to take my friends for granted because I never know when they’ll disappear.