Old friends, winter companions*

*from Old Friends, Simon & Garfunkel, lyrics by Paul Simon, 1968

I have a friend who is sick.

Not well.

Stuck in a downward spiral of negative feedback loops.

Gravely ill. Emphasis on grave.

Lots of “oses” and “isms” and “eses” are bantered about these days when folks speak about him.

I have not laid eyes on the guy since June of 1990, but we have kept in touch.  He’s an Andover guy.  Huge athlete back in the day.  He and I sat by each other our entire tenth grade year in the back corner of Bulfinch Hall, the English building. We learned together in a class named “Competence.” The English department used that sobriquet as it was their sincerest hope that at the end of the year we indoctrinated tenth graders would be competent in English.

I think we were, and are, because of that class.

My friend and I had two teachers that year, Jean St. Pierre and Rob Long.  Miss St. Pierre had been a veteran of Andover for years.  Rob, as we called him, was a newly minted college graduate back at his high school alma mater for a year to serve as a Teaching Fellow in the English Department in Bulfinch Hall.  I blame both of them for my love of the language, my ability to tell a tale, and my not fleeing the cold North for the sunnier South in the tenth grade.

They affected my eternity.

Miss St. Pierre admonished that I simply would not go home as the school needed students like me.  She died two years ago.  I wept.  If you read these missives regularly, then you know Rob Long and I are still pals. He may be the funniest person I know, and I know a mess of funny people.  That is the backdrop of the friendship in question.

Bulfinch Hall. c. 1818. Competently designed by Asher Benjamin but named for Charles Bulfinch who designed Pearson Hall (f/k/a Bartlett Chapel). Got that?

My friend, who is ill, could not be more different from me. He was the star athlete at the school. I trip over my own feet.  He’s from Upstate New York.  Y’all know I’m not.  He was bold and brash and brave with everyone on campus.  I was more reticent.  We had a great time in that class together and were a Mutt and Jeff combo for the entire year.  We had the best Competence class on campus.  You who were in it know that I’m right. I’m talking to all the back right corner of Bulfinchers, 1987 – 1988, the post-sports class time of 4:30 p.m. He and I remained friends all through school.  Unlikely friends.  The best kind.  He would shout, “Hammy!” at me across the way for three years.  I would shout back at him.

Closer friends at school would say, “How are you two even friends? What’s the deal, dude?”

“We took Competence together” I would reply.

“Oh…he was in your Competence class.”  Immediate understanding.

My pal lives in California.

All L.A. All the time.

He’s an amazing artist.  He’s a skillful poet. Or should I say competent?

My friend recently knocked on death’s door.  He was just about to finish the famous “Shave and a Hair Cut, Two Bits” knock, but, thanks be to God, he never got those last two raps on the door.

He was beyond sick.  He was beyond hope. He was beyond being on this side of the veil.

To top it all off, he was in a hospital in Rome (Italy, not Georgia), where he had been living. At least they have socialized medicine?  We have to give him something.

So, what happened? Let’s just say his body failed him.

Another pal who happened to be in Italy last summer actually went and saw him in the Roman hospital with an immediate APB to all of us who were in school together advising of the state of health, or lack thereof.

What does one do in such a situation?

Well, I did all I know to do and wrote our friend a message.  I told him

that I was pulling for him

that I had added him to our church’s prayer list

that little old ladies all over Charleston would be praying for his health

that I knew he was strong as an ox

that I knew he was stubborn as a mule

that I knew he could right the listing ship that was his body.

I sent some money to the Go Fund Me site that his parents started.

I told him jokes that I cannot repeat here.

I thought my note to him was a simple word of encouragement. I thought I had just written an old friend having the worst Roman holiday ever.  I thought I was just being nice.

I had no idea that my words of encouragement, humor, pathos, sympathy, and sarcasm would have a tonic effect on my pal. Apparently, they did. We have been in almost daily communications since.

He actually asks me for some pep talks from time to time. I am happy to oblige.  He’s still sick. Ill. Not well. But, he does see some light now.  At least I think he does. Any part I may have played in that remains paltry in comparison to the work he has done, his beloved has done, and that of his doctors, his nurses, his therapists.

Why do I tell you all this?

Because I am hoping for a true Christmas Miracle for him.

Why do I tell you all this?

Because if you are a person of faith and can add him to your prayer list, please do so.

Why do I tell you all this?

Because, as I have said over and over and over again, ain’t no friends like old friends.

Why do I tell you all this?

Because I exhort you to contact the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

One never knows when one’s words impact another.

Send the text. Send the message. Write the note.

My buddy is now back in Los Angeles trying to will himself to health.

Godspeed, Michael Deyermond.

You sick, sick bastard. Literally. You sick, sick bastard.

As Sir Winston said addressing his alma mater, the Harrow School, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

More importantly, as Rob Long said addressing our Competence class one dark winter evening, “Y’all pat your heads if I seem off in front of the accreditation observers. I just took a lot of Robitussin.”

And, most importantly, as Michael Deyermond himself wrote to all of us back in August:

i should have known that andover was still there rooting

Right there, dude.  Right there.

Image result for michael deyermond
Michael Deyermond and his work “This is my heart”. 2016.

P.S. Andover continues to be there.

One of our dearest classmates, and now living saint among us, is hosting Mr. Deyermond during his L.A. recuperation.  She is the Good Samaritan.  Zenzi Gadson, you are showering our pal with mercy beyond measure.  May we be more like you, take the words of Jesus to heart, and “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 25:37 

2 thoughts on “Old friends, winter companions*

  1. I couldn’t sleep tonight. I guess I was meant to read this and say a prayer. More prayers to come. Christmas miracles do happen and what a beautiful friendship to share with us. Edie D at 4:12 am


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