It would have made a lot more sense for me to commute to my job in New York City’s garment district, a junior denim startup on 38th and Broadway, by train rather than bus. Trains do not get stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel behind a broken-down car in the left lane. But Joe took the bus, so I did too.
Let’s get this out of the way: Joe was not my boyfriend or a romantic love interest. Though opting-in for a horrific commute would be one of the more reasonable things that I’ve done in the name of love. I’d briefly dated one of his good friends after college. When it ended, I walked away with a broken heart, a stack of REM cassette tapes, and Joe, the guy who kept his hand hovering on my back, reassuring but never pushing, as I made a pivotal life choice.
When I found out Joe died in September, I reflected a lot on our friendship.
Recently, I heard an author say her daily writing practice is a way for her to see herself more clearly. I’d add it also helps to see others more clearly. Some would argue this because memory is looking back on an experience through the lens of who we are now. But in 1990, I couldn’t fully appreciate what was happening, or what Joe’s role was in all of it. The story was unfolding, quickly, and that he was my champion at such a life-changing moment wasn’t clear to me.
Can we ever have that kind of clarity in the moment?
What drew me to Joe was his certainty about everything. Joe’s brand of self-confidence was wrapped in a laid-back nature that was utterly unlike the world of 1989/90s New York City finance. He was decisive, from career choices to weekend plans, he never second-guessed himself. He also didn’t judge. Being in his sphere was like finding a sliver of stability in a chaotic world. Like the hope and stillness of morning before it’s unraveled by the weight of the day.
Back then, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I was clear on was how I wanted to feel; I wanted new experiences, big adventures, and to live somewhere that took my breath away. I had friends willing to put me up in Aspen, which I had to look up on map since I’d never been to Colorado, so that was my new plan. But I had never skied. My outdoor activities were things like waiting for the Shortline bus on Rt. 17 South in Ramsey, and in the winter, bitching to Joe about the cold weather.
My idea to move to Colorado brought about a slew of “what-abouts” from people: What about health insurance? What about a job? What about retirement? What about the cold weather?
For every what-about I hurled at Joe, his response was always the same. “It’s going to be okay.” He said it a million times, calmly and confidently, over and over and over again.
It’s not that he wasn’t listening. What I needed, as I worked my way back to standing in my choice, was that kind of consistent reassurance. A steady hand, hovering but never pushing. And when Joe came out to Aspen to visit me, there was not one “I told you so.”
Today is Joe’s birthday. He would have been 53.
Without Joe’s friendship, I am unsure of what my life would look like today. I question whether I would have been strong enough to walk blindly toward a new life. Would all of those snowboarding, climbing, and sunset photos exist? Those experiences shaped the person I’ve become. He was, at a very critical time, my person.
In January, the REM cassette guy messaged about a celebration of Joe’s life. I shared my thoughts, and he replied, “He made a difference in a lot of people’s lives, and sadly I don’t think he truly knew how much of an impact he had on them.”
In memory of Joe, and all of our Joes, let’s swap talking about how busy we are for a note saying, I’m thinking of you, our friendship is meaningful, you matter, we matter.
Who is your person? Or who have been your people? Tag them here or just let them know.
Let your Joe know.
Especially now. Especially later, when this crisis is over. Especially before it is too late.
“We are hope despite the times.” -REM