For those of you looking for a strictly business-oriented post today, you’ll have to decide if you can find some kernels in this one. Perhaps some of the thoughts, issues and characteristics about my relationship in this post will touch you, push a button or turn on a light that’s been off for awhile. Taking the journey is up to you. Nonetheless, I invite you into a part of my life that has endured and influenced who I am and what I do every day.
Paul T. Kamide, my best friend for the last 40 years, passed away in October. I just returned from memorializing his life on a quick trip to the Boston area this weekend. Paul and I shared the kind of relationship that significantly influenced my life and my work; I believe he would have said the same. It was an unusual relationship for us both. We met in 1971 at Merrimack College, where he was the head of Campus Ministry. Paul was an ordained Augustinian priest and I was a rebellious college student; imagine the contrast: me, fresh off of hitchhiking up and down the coast, patched jeans, long hair, Woodstock ‘graduate’ concerned about a country at war, idealistic, in search of my own spirituality and the meaning of life; Paul, from a conservative upstate small NY town; preaching God’s word in a traditionally Catholic college; well-formed views about theology, spirituality and his life’s direction dedicated to God. In so many ways different, and yet underlying, we found a common bond, a thread that wove between us across four decades: a quest for true spiritual meaning in our lives, the love of family and good friends, the unwillingness to accept injustices and the mistreatment of others, a desire to give back more than we take from this journey and a thirst for doing what’s right and what we believed in even the face of criticism, doubt and sometimes fear.
Over the past decades I’ve stayed with or visited him in all the various places and parishes he’s been and lived. Though he wore a collar, to me he was a plainclothesman, just a man, a fellow traveler with all the same issues each of us count as part of our make-up. And that’s what made our relationship different, and special.
Early in our relationship, Paul’s mom died, and a few of us loaded in a car and made a trek across the snow-filled Berkshires to head up to some of the coldest country I’ve known in my life, Carthage, NY, on the Canadian border. That was a defining moment between Paul and me. Since that time, I’ve always made a point to value that time in others’ lives when they’ve lost a parent. Paul later shared with me how profoundly the loss of his mom, and the visit from those of us who were there to support him, affected him. I learned that none of us is immune from what that life transition means, and when it happens to our friends, it’s important to be there for them.
Paul was a risk-taker when it came to people. He was willing to trust his instincts when he saw good in someone, in spite of outward appearances and public perceptions. Bear in mind, this was an era of turmoil in our country. My long-haired, outspoken style was a challenge to the administration at this small, private, liberal arts college run by the Augustinian Order. Nonetheless, Paul gave me a job in Campus Ministry to help me pay my way through college. We designed programs that would connect the community surrounding the school to the students attending. We called it People, Plus… and it was a way of building a thread between students and local families. Today it’s among the roots of my work with others, helping to build connections and communication where it’s challenging and unexpected.
I only had enough money to pay my way through my first year of school, so Paul introduced me to the then-president, Reverend John Ahearn, who helped underwrite my college journey, based on his confidence in Paul’s judgment of and faith in people. I learned the importance of faith, confidence and the importance of acceptance of differences in others, no matter their views, values, cultural, societal or other differences. Those who were willing to take a chance on me taught me to be open to others as well, and that judgment only clouds our ability to love, to give and be generous of spirit and thought.
Paul left Merrimack to work at the Newman Center in Winter Park, Florida, and I decided to complete my studies early and join him there. We worked together for six months, and through countless hours of discussion, dialogue, interaction with numerous itinerant travelers and visitors, we both learned more about one another, people, the world, our faith and subjects and issues that stimulated and challenged who we were, what we believed and how we lived.
Forward to 1977, Paul was my best man in my wedding (an unusual duty for someone in his position). We continued to visit and stay in touch, always challenging and learning from one another, sharing history and memories as well as exploring and growing as life changed, new people and events occurred in our lives, and opportunities for both of us came, were pursued and achieved or not. My concept of friendship was chiseled out of this intellectual, spiritual, emotional relationship that endured the years, the distance and the life changes. It served as the centerpiece of my work today, where I encourage and train others as a facilitator, motivator, trainer and coach.
When others would hear us on the phone talking and catching up, nurturing and growing our relationship over a 3,000 mile chasm, they’d always comment about the gut-level laughter they heard as we teased, provoked, reflected and challenged one another. The ability to laugh and joke and not take oneself so seriously was the hallmark of this successful, adored, yet humble man. It’s a trait I admired and still emulate.
Paul died last month after struggling (stubbornly, as was his nature) with diabetes. It wasn’t like him to ask for help after spending a lifetime helping others. The cornerstone of his life was learning and teaching how to live a life based on the abundance theory. (Recall from prior posts how important I believe this is; Paul was an inspiration to me for that.) He always sought ways to give, rather than to receive, and to share his heart, his encouragement and his support with others, rather than seek his own glory or credit. The more he gave away, the more abundantly he lived with the love from others.
I’m not sure how many lives he touched given his life’s work, I only know he taught me well that we have to take every moment in our lives to appreciate and enjoy those around us, and to do what we can, when asked or not, to give support, encouragement and nurturing. We never know how we might affect that life in even the simplest of moments, with the slightest of effort.
During Paul’s memorial service, I talked about the importance of these kinds of relationships in our lives. As I reflect on the importance of these life-long relationships, I recall from an old movie the quote, “In life, we don’t get a second chance to make new ‘old friends’ so we better value and honor the ones we have.”
In the legal world, there’s a concept called, “privileged communications.” These are communications and relationships that are sacrosanct, untouchable by others and private to those who share that privilege. My relationship with Paul was like that, and the two of us enjoyed a safety and peace in knowing how unique and nurturing that was. As we shared our stories, challenges and perspectives on people, life, politics, religion and so forth, we knew our conversations were our own and beyond intervention by others. Extraordinary in this world. Joyfully, we recognized this, and we cherished it.
These are rare relationships. If you have them, you, too, are privileged. Don’t wait to remind yourself and those with whom you have them of how meaningful and priceless they are to you. You don’t know how long each of will be around to appreciate them.
In my typically youthful ideological way (of course we knew everything at that age!), I remember telling Paul at Merrimack, “Well, all these folks coming and going from school who promise to stay in touch will eventually lose track of one another. After all, time and distance change all relationships.” He never let me forget that. And each call or visit, when we’d end our time together, he’d always remind me that we might not speak again, because, after all, “Time and distance change all relationships!”
For forty years I heard his voice echo that teasing refrain. And now no more. Our relationship, as we once knew it, has forever changed.
In closing my reflections at the memorial service, I shared this poem by Sally Huss. I’ve had it for almost all the decades I’ve known Paul. It reminded me so of him, and the many others that have come and gone in my life.
“Around me I wear an invisible coat of many colors, fabrics and textures. It is made of friends and family here and no longer here, far and not so far. They are all part of my coat which keeps me warm wherever I go.”
Paul will always be a part of that coat. I’d like to think I was part of his while he was here. His inspiration will continue to be a part of my life, as I hope I was of his.
For those in your life with whom you have a special relationship, I encourage you to share your own story, how you value that relationship and how it affects who you are. Taking the time to do so promises an abundance in return. And Paul would have liked that.
Good-bye, my friend. May you rest in peace, and know forever how much you meant to me.