Something wickedly wonderful this way came — and left much too soon

(Each year when I hear the first echoes of hammering reverberating near our home and harkening the arrival of the Davis Carnival, I think of my friend — and the memory of a warm, terrible spring evening more than a decade ago…)

This view from our office's back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

This view from our office’s back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

It’s a strange juxtaposition I find myself in each year, watching the arrival of the carnival and seeing the excitement in the eyes of our children. But as the rides are hammered together late into the evening, I am reminded of the night 13 years ago when I got the call from my best friend telling me he was coming back home to Oregon — because he was dying.

He was 30 years old.

I had been working late at the newspaper that evening and was just heading out the door when my cell phone rang. Seeing that it was my friend, I stopped in the open doorway and leaned against the jam, enjoying the spring air and watching the Ferris wheel begin its first revolution in preparation for opening night. It was well past dusk, and the strobing and spinning lights of the carnival were like shooting stars, rising into the night sky and reflecting off the surface of the nearby Siuslaw River. As my friend spoke, I found myself watching The Zandar, a spinning hub routinely hosed down after launching people’s stomach contents. When the words “cancer” and “inoperable” escaped the phone, my world began to spin as well. I remember slowly sliding down the jam, and the feel of the strike plate gouging my back until I had collapsed into a hunched position. He explained the ocular cancer, which had taken his left eye nearly two years earlier, had returned and spread to his brain and organs through his lymph nodes. He had less than three months. In the distance, I heard the first screams of carnival goers and, for only the third time in my life, I wept uncontrollably…

image In September of 1995, I received a letter from my mother. Included with it was something she’d cut out of the local paper, something written by a young man who, that July, had become the new sports editor for the Siuslaw News. As I unfolded the three-column rectangle of news print, a smiling face appeared below the wide brim of an Australian-style hat.

The face was kind. Genuine. And in the eyes was a vibrancy and glean that transcended the black and white newspaper page.

Long before I actually met Jason F. Jensen, I somehow knew that his eyes were blue. That he walked with his hands in his pockets. That he preferred hiking boots over Reeboks. And that his wit was sharp, but never cruel.

As I read the last paragraph of my mother’s letter, she closed with a mixture of whimsey and intuition:

I hope you can meet each other some day; I know the two of you would be great friends.

I then sat down to read “Breathe easy, young man,” Jason’s first column for the Siuslaw News, and was immediately taken by the description of his escape from the San Bernandino Valley — a 15 mph getaway in his “violent-yellow” VW van that marked his return to Oregon after a year of living in the “coffee-colored haze” of southern California.

In his writing was a mixture of truth and vulnerability laced with subtle humor — qualities that were a direct reflection of his natural disposition as both explorer and astute observer of life.

By the following afternoon, the column had been laminated and posted on our refrigerator door.

Three years later, we arrived back in Florence with our possessions, our plans to settle down, our new jobs and our refrigerator — column still in place. It wasn’t until months later, while visiting some friends, that a lanky figure descended the stairs into the living room, hands in his pockets. He had hiking boots on, and his blue eyes greeted us long before the words could leave his mouth. As he pulled his wide-brimmed hat into place, I blurted, “You’re the guy on my refrigerator!”

One might say that from those words, our friendship began.

But, I’d have to disagree; in actuality, it started long before that. Long before my mother decided to clip that first column from the newspaper. Long before he sat in this very newsroom and wrote a story about returning home that remains on our refrigerator to this day. I believe that true friendship begins long before a handshake or shared laugh. It’s something set into motion and meant as a gift for staying on pace with your life.

Make the right decisions and remain true to yourself, and you will find the gift of true friendship.

Based on that belief, I’d have to say that returning to Florence was the best decision I ever made. Jason became one of my truest friends, closest confidants, and the godfather to my son (And yes, Jason could do a mean Marlon Brando).

If friendship is the metronome of life, I’d have to say Jason’s was paced with absolute precision — a notion made evident by the ever-widening circle of friends he made in his 30 years of life.

When it all comes down to it, love is the only real measure of success. It’s the only thing worth taking with you, and the most lasting gift you can leave behind.

Jason, should you ever question your measure of success in this life, take a look at our refrigerator door —

And breathe easy, young man.

image

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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73 thoughts on “Something wickedly wonderful this way came — and left much too soon

  1. That was just lovely. What a delightful tribute. Now I want to put this on my fridge so I never forget it, “When it all comes down to it, love is the only real measure of success. It’s the only thing worth taking with you, and the most lasting gift you can leave behind.”

  2. Few of us blokes give ourselves to a matesip such is this, Ned, sorry for your great loss…but am glad you seized the opportunity when you had it. Respect Red

    • Thanks, Red. Even if I knew how things were going to turn out, I wouldn’t have given up a single moment of our friendship. I truly believe some people are put on this earth to profoundly touch the lives of many people in a short life span. Without question, Jason was one of those souls.

      Thanks for allowing me to share his life with you, my friend.

      • Yeah, I think you’re onto something there Ned. Do you think those people know that? I knew a bloke this once, ended up so broken by people taking advantage that he’s withdrawn a lot, and just a little bit jaded maybe. Is it possible he gave too much, I sometimes wonder.

        • I don’t think it’s possible to give too much as long as it comes from the heart. The problem isn’t so much with the Givers as it is with the Takers in the world. It’s sort of like what my dad told me once: Don’t ever loan money. Give it and expect nothing in return or don’t offer it at all. That way, you’ll never be disappointed either way. I think the same applies to giving of yourself.

  3. Stories like this–the seemingly random cruelness of fate–make me question whether or not there’s a God. The world is full of shitheel dictators in perfect health and, yet, decent people like this are taken away so young. How can anyone believe there’s a higher power?

    • I truly believe some people are put on this earth to touch the lives of many within a short life span. In his 30 years he literally made friends all over the world and, in so doing, brought those people together through their connection with him. In a way, I think Jason was an example of a higher power at work.

      But yeah, the rest of those people are buttheads.

  4. Ned,
    If i thought i had insomnia, there is doubt now. I am so sorry for your loss. What an amazing tribute to an amazing person in your life. The refrigerator, the article, your frienship, the carnival. A great person thoughtfully recalled. Hugs, Ned. R

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend Ned. Thank you for sharing your words & your thoughts about Jason & the impact of love & friendship in our lives, in whatever form it may come. Breathe easy my friend:)

    • I really appreciate you taking the time to read it again, Ross. I debated running it again, but as I told someone else putting the words “out there” helps me deal with it “in here.” I posted it at the same time I got the call all those years ago. Kind of hard to forget; thanks for taking the time to remember with me.

  6. “I believe that true friendship begins long before a handshake or shared laugh. It’s something set into motion and meant as a gift for staying on pace with your life.

    Make the right decisions and remain true to yourself, and you will find the gift of true friendship.”

    This is fabulous. Rings true with everything I believe as well, though I’ve never heard it stated quite this way. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of your friend.

  7. In addition to your words, I was taken by Jason’s picture. Like he reached out and grabbed me with his warm eyes to say hello.
    I’m so sorry for your loss and know all too well that cancer is a cruel visitor. I truly believe that you were destined to be friends before you ever met and destined for the same long after.

  8. His face does look kind. 30 is much too young to go. When I read, ” I remember slowly sliding down the jam, and the feel of the strike plate gouging my back until I had collapsed into a hunched position,” I could see you falling, and also remember when I did that in my life during a hard time. Well done, Ned. Nice tribute to your friend.

    • Thanks, Kerbey. He and my wife are the two kindest people I’ve ever met, and I will always be grateful for having them in my life. I remember Jason daily, and am thankful for my wife just as often — and make it a point to tell her so.

      And I’m truly sorry you ever had to experience that kind of slide; I know what it means.

  9. Good friends are hard to come by, friends that no matter what will always be there for you. Even though the friendship was cut short by a horrible disease, it is a friendship that the disease cannot erase.

  10. You have my sympathy on the loss of a friend but my envy from having known someone who touched your life in such a way that love and peace flowed through your words. A wonderful read my friend.

    • Thanks, Suz.
      Though his life ended much too soon, the memories and inspiration will last a lifetime for everyone who knew him. I’m glad I had the chance to introduce you 😉

  11. Because of where I live I hear the word “blessed” dropped into sentences like sailors drop the f-bomb, but that is the word that comes to mind after reading this. Blessed. Ned, you have been blessed with some great people in your life, from your grandmother to Jason. Their influence almost seems tangible in your writing.

  12. Wonderfully written Ned. I could feel Jason there from your description. There are a few people like Jason in this world and they give us all hope that it is possible to live an open, honest, caring, loving life. You have been blessed that you have had two such people in your life (Jason and Alicia). It is gut-wrenching that Jason had only so few years with us, and yet you have made it clear that he contributed more in those few years than many do in a lifetime. Thank you for sharing Jason with us. It helps to be reminded that such people really do exist.

    • Hey, I can almost guarantee you that not even The Master of Horror® Stephen King can say any of HIS books have been mentioned in conjunction with a flokati.

      So yeah, I’m feeling a little sassy now!

  13. Well, this piece will certainly stay with me for a while. This was simply beautiful and a lovely testament to someone who obviously spent way too little time on this Earth. As you know, I’ve become a fan of your writing because you seem to know where my funny bone is located (better than some surgeons, according to your book;)), but it’s a post like this one that I believe showcases your versatility as a writer and, arguably more important, you as a loving and caring person.
    While I visit your site because it makes me laugh, I’m really glad you wrote this post. Being 32 myself it’s somewhat confronting to read about someone who never reached that age, but at the same time it’s inspiring and it makes me feel grateful for what I have.
    Finally, this piece made me think of one I did a few months ago, which was about my mother, who passed away last August. I’m not really a big fan of advertising blogs in the comment section, but if you’re interested: http://www.satnat.net/a-letter-to-death/

    • I just finished reading your “Letter to Death” post, which has to be one of my very favorite posts. Not just if your but in general. A combination of thoughtful insight and wit that, as I mentioned in my comment there, is like looking at a reflection in the mirror: We’re not always comfortable with what we see but can’t help but recognize ourselves in it.

      A truly wonderful piece that offers a unique perspective on the meaning of Death in life.

      Bravo, Arend 😉

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