You ever have a thought that just nags you to death? You know the one that persists when all others tuck tail and leave?
The japanese call it, kou kai. The dutch say, betreuren.
We Americans use the term regret.
I've been having that feeling for—I don't know, four years now. It's mainly about this older gentlemen from Australia, Barry Aitchison. We were in this critique group together where we exchanged our works-in-progress via email for constructive criticism. Constructive for Barry usually meant swinging his (figurative) axe all over your story, chopping it to bits and leaving you to sift through the butchered words for survivors. And your story is better because of it, too.
I’ve been thinking about him for the last couple of years, about all the harsh critiques he had ever given my stories, of how, on some level, he demanded that I do better. 'You've got a story in you, girl," he'd say.
I looked back on some of those critiques just before beginning this post and I still cringe and hold my breath while reading all the comments and suggestions he laced with his dry humor. And though some of his words stung, I see know that Barry wasn’t as brutal as he could have been.
There must have been something he saw in my writing because he wanted to work on a project together (he was a machine, ideas always turning in his head). I had a couple of projects on my plate already, but I agreed. I wanted to 'do' better and Barry had a way of pulling the 'better' out of you.
We had exchanged emails all the time up until four years ago. When the tornados tore through Alabama, the first person in my inbox checking to see that my loved ones and I were okay was Barry. When the wild fires burned through Australia, I worried if Barry and his family had made it out okay until he wrote me back saying the fires had missed them in Bayswater. We kept in touch regularly. And then, like I often do, I stopped.
I just stopped.
I set in my mind that I would email him today, that I’d put some witty heading in the subject line that would make him smile and somehow forgive the lapse in time. I don’t know what made me Google his name first. Some social media habit I’ve developed over the years? Maybe it was that time he was holed up in the hospital for five weeks ill, and wrote to tell me how noisy his nurses were (knowing full well that I was in nursing school). Or when he emailed me that he would have to slow down with his critiques to the group because his sight was going: “I have to wear sunglasses to look at the screen. I'm just doing the minimum I can,” he had said. Or it may have been all my experience with the elderly and the sad truth that the body must someday expire.
My dear friend from Australia passed away some time three years ago. This I discovered from an IWW member’s blog.
I don't know how my friend died. I didn't get the chance to tell him how precious he was to me, that I appreciated him. I never will. And that saddens me.
When I am old and thinking of all things I could have done differently in my life (all the regrets that I have amassed) I believe the number one will be that I didn't take the time to nurture friendships—that I didn't spend a few moments breathing oxygen into friendly fires to keep them burning.
Take a moment to nurture some fires in your life. Don't add to your list of regrets.
Barry is no longer with us, but you can still find a piece of him here. He wrote many stories but this is his only published work. May his humor bring a smile to your face as it did for countless others.