This is not about the election.
Last month I lost someone. And yesterday I found someone.
Boring? Not election-ee? You may swipe out. But if I may share my grief and joy, read on.
Carole was my boss. She hired me as the Director of Strategic Planning at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. I worked with her for—oh, maybe two years or so. Tall, skinny, blond, and very Nordic looking, you would think she was Norwegian. Carole was in her fifties and a heavy smoker. She and I hit it off. We complemented each other—I was super organized, she wasn’t; she was super smart, I wasn’t—it was the perfect match. I was enamored, dazzled by her insight, and I rode the waves with her change-orders. Then one day, Carole lost her job. I don’t believe I saw her after that. She moved to Carolina (not sure if it was North or South—the Carolinas confuse me). We stayed connected, emailing about our family happenings. Somewhere along the line, her emails stopped coming. At first I didn’t notice. When I sent out my annual holiday greetings with a year-end update, I didn’t hear back. Then again, many on my 50+ list wouldn’t write back either. Whenever I thought of her—which was either in the shower or while driving—I would make a mental note to reach out to her, and then forget. The years went by. This year when I sent out my holiday greetings, making a big splash about my book, I expected to get a ‘delighted’ email from Carole. Silence! Maybe her email has changed? I didn’t have a phone #. I put her name in Google, and this is what I found:
“In Memory of Carole Stapleton Rhodes – Andrews Mortuary”.
I am still grieving.
The announcement was dated 2011. When did I lose touch? I traced our emails. Her last email to me was dated 2008. Did she stop writing because she got sick? Why didn’t I write; I wasn’t sick? I emailed my former colleagues at the hospital. They did not know that she had died. I tried to find her husband. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was about Carole, and how much she meant to me. No luck. I tried to find her daughter, but she probably changed her name after marriage. Carole had a son with Cerebral Palsy—William. I wondered about him. Then I remembered a colleague she was very close to—Stacey. I am sure they were in touch. I tried to find her. Maybe she too got married and changed her name.
I think about Carole a lot, and wonder about her last years. If only…I have only myself to blame. My loss. Can I keep a promise that the next time I think of someone, I won’t postpone making that call?
Not Carole’s family.
Yesterday I got an email from a name I didn’t know. I will call her Farah. The Subject line read: “An old friend from Pindi days.” She had read a review of my book by Anjum Niaz in Dawn (Pakistani newspaper), and wondered if it was the same girl she had known in the 1960s. She did a search, found my website, and on the Photos page, recognized my parents. My email was listed on my website.
Don’t you love technology!
I knew Farah when I was 12. We lived across the street from one another and we would take walks up and down the block on our secluded tree-lined street, our knitting needles clicking away. My parents and grandmother loved Farah. She introduced me to Agatha Christie and we traded mystery books. A year into our friendship, we moved, and she went off to Kinnaird college in Lahore. The last time we met was in 1968. I came to America, and never heard of her again.
Recently, I started thinking about Farah. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps because of my book. Books was all we talked about. If only we women had kept our maiden names, I could have found Farah. Oh well!
Then I get this email. She now lives in Dubai. We feverishly traded emails, and next morning met face-to-face on Skype. Ever shared a lifetime of fifty years over a screen? We laughed when we recalled our childhood. I teared up when she told me about her husband’s passing. She furrowed her brows when she couldn’t remember what I remembered. She told me how beautiful my mother was. We talked about Sufism and she showed me a book she had translated. I held up mine, she held up hers. Farah later wrote to me, “You are one of the links in the chain of my past."
Isn’t friendship the most enduring relationship! We were children then; we hadn’t been in touch for 50 years; we are now in our sixties; yet we hadn’t lost that inner connection.
Friendship found me.