Missing a friend

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It is early, early on Sunday morning, in New England. The snow has started, and I am trying to get on the first flight out of the airport this morning, at 5.40 am. The plane is in from last night, so I have a good shot, but the next four flights have been canceled. I gambled, and it looks like I will make it. I had several meetings this weekend, before the ....

holiday, plus a gathering of friends.

Once a year, this special gathering takes place. The city is in New England, and the setting is, first a bar at one of my favorite hotels, then, it is off to a well known establishment for a late dinner, and some catching up. It is, in all honesty, my favorite evening of the year.

It is at this evening, that I catch up with friends that I have worked with during the year, but it seems that this time of the year, the holidays, is what adds to the evening. We catch up, a good friend tells me about a couple of good books to read on the long flights. We talk about our kids, families, and consider the year that is just about to finish.

The evening is filled with laughter, and winks and good natured jokes. Tables are set with the names of friends and soon to be friends. This dinner is put on by someone who cares enough to invite many of his friends to a special party each year around the holidays.

After a dinner that last until early hours the next morning, the crowd headed back to a watering hole, to a) keep the spirit going and b) to wager on whether this blogger would get home on Sunday.

The stories go on, the jokes continue, and the goodbyes start. "Best wishes, Holiday wishes, see you in a month!" The upcoming storm is discussed and how the bad weather will help the a certain New England football team.

As I get up to leave, a friend comes to me, to say how much he misses one of our gang who could not attend this year and would not be here in the future. That real look of someone close to you, in pain, who misses someone he dearly loves, is hard to miss. The tears, hard fought, are real, as he heads out for a cold walk to their hotel. We quietly share some thoughts about our missing friend and how much he would have loved the evening.

I begin to think about our missing friend, who we lost last summer. A man of style, grace and humor, our friend died too early. We did not get to tell him that we loved him, that we looked for him at gatherings, and how he added life to a room. We did not know of his fears, his concerns. He never showed that, he was a guy. He was just a good guy. And he was a grandfather and a father too, as well as one of the best elite coordinators in our sport.

I close my eyes, as I go to my taxi and see his face, his smile, and try to hear his laugh. My last time with him was taking a walk back from an Irish pub in Long Beach this past May, and talking about the summer ahead. I never saw him again.

At the dinner, our missing friend, Mike Long was toasted. At the dinner, we ate, we drank, we laughed, and we thought of our friend, who we miss. Someone at our table said, " This table, tonight, we will celebrate like Mike would want us , we will have some fun, we will have some wine and we will enjoy a great meal. Mike would have wanted that."

It is about nine am now, and I am in Chicago. The snow from last night's storm slowed down Chicago, and I did get out of the East Coast just before a strong storm. The gamble was worth it, though, the meetings were made and a night with friends, remembering a lost friend whose presence was sorely missed...

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