Monday, 19 January 2015

A friend to treasure. Though we never met

Facebook does some things well. The best, in my experience, is that it can make friends of strangers, friends who haven’t even met, who in the old sense of the word, may never meet.

That was our experience with Bob Patterson.

It started with his posting occasional comments on my blog.They were always insightful or funny or both, and at one point Danielle asked me, “who is this Bob? He seems so clever and kind.” So in November 2010, we sought him out on Facebook.

That made us what I like to think of as “friends”. In the Facebook sense. With quotation marks.

Bob: a "friend" since November 2010, and then a friend indeed
The cleverness and kindness continued.

“He always brightens up the day, doesn’t he?” Danielle would say, as the occasional comments sprinkled our posts.

Gradually, they grew and blossomed into more sustained exchanges, and almost imperceptibly, we moved from simple “friends” to proper friends.

”You know,” Danielle added, “he could be a brother of yours, with his sense of humour and his attitudes.”

We had much in common, but he outdid me in gentleness and generosity of spirit.

It did occur to us that only chatting on Facebook, while perfectly satisfactory as far as it went, would never beat actually meeting, physically, in the flesh. Danielle and I could travel to the States to catch up with him in Kansas; then again, Bob seemed attracted to the idea of coming over to Europe so that we could all three travel down to Italy. Great plans, to be revisited at some unspecified date in the future, when we would all have more time.

While we were waiting, the comments continued. Never unpleasant, always warming. He’d crush a lousy pun of mine with a far worse one or, even more gallingly, a more subtle one. Or he’d simply throw out some gentle wit or wisdom.

On a photo of me trailing along fifty metres behind my dog, it was “dog walks man.” Laconic, perfectly balanced, entirely inoffensive, deserving a smile.

Back in December, replying to a post about the cough afflicting both Danielle and me, he wrote: “Mankoff and womankoff in your household? Get well.”

On New Year’s Day, he posted a card which advised us all to kiss someone who thought we were wonderful.

“The last creature to kiss me who thought I was wonderful,” Bob pointed out, “had ears down to her knees and legs up to her wagging tail.”

Deprecating his own insomnia just over a week ago, he posted: “Popsicle sticks are made from the wood of the white birch. Go back to bed.”

I enjoyed the whimsy of the thought, and as always with Bob, it left me smiling.

Those smiles, those little brightening moments, are what we’ll most remember of Bob. They’ll be cheering memories but, sadly, memories are now all we’re going to have. Because during the night of Saturday to Sunday, Bob who we thought had been recovering from his long spate of ill health, succumbed to it and died.

There’ll be no more comments, and it’s only now I realise how much I looked out for them: a “like” was always welcome, a reply still more so, the absence of a comment frankly disappointing. There’ll be no meeting in Kansas. There’ll be no trip to Italy. We waited for when we had time, and now time has run out.

It was wonderful to have had four years of Bob’s friendship. But I would have liked another five or ten or fifteen. We would both have liked to get to know him a great deal better and do some of the things we’d panned.

Which brings me back to the beginning. Facebook does many things well. But it’s only a vehicle, a medium. What brings it to life, what makes it shine, is people.

When it comes to people, nobody did more than Bob to make Facebook shine. With a gentle, warming, cheering light that did everyone who felt it good.

Farewell, Bob. We’re going to miss you. And remember with pleasure the short time we shared.


donjt said...

I share al the same experiences that you had with Bob, however, I will never put friend In quotes. He was just that kind of guy. A true gentleman, from the times we spent in yahoo chat, until his last like or comment. Oh, how I wish we had a chance to meet in the flesh, but I'll take what I got. That was so much. May we meet again my friend.

David Beeson said...

Well, you sum up him perfectly. And indeed why not leave the quotation marks off friends? For us, it was only a stage anyway, and quickly over until he became someone it was a delight to know and who leaves a terrible emptiness behind him.