If only we could all be like my late neighbor Brad.
Just a couple days after the lovely Mrs. Junell and I moved into our home —ironically right across the street from where we lived for almost nine years before shuffling off to Colorado for a couple years — we were sitting on the bench out front. It was early July of last year, but shortly before sundown, so a good time to sit, imbibe in a nice glass of Merlot and soak in our return to the neighborhood we have loved for so long.
We look, and ambling across the street is a small man sporting a smile as big as his driveway. He was coming to welcome us to the neighborhood — he didn't know we had lived there before, in the house right next to him and his wife Jan.
He saw the opportunity to be friendly, and if you knew Brad you knew he simply was not going to let a chance to do so pass him by. We clicked immediately and had a great visit. It was one of those rare times in life when you know you're meeting someone special, someone you can laugh with, share down moments with, or just know there's always a nice conversation just outside the front door and across the street.
You know, a good friend.
Much to our surprise — I should say shock — at the end of our initial conversation Brad revealed he had stage 4 cancer. He said doctors gave him about eight months to live.
But he didn't say it with sadness. He said it in a way that delivered a message of, "Damnit, I know the end is near, but until it gets here I'm going to enjoy every single second of this life as much as I can."
And that's what he did. Also, you just could not be sad around Brad. Oh, sometimes it was a melancholy feeling knowing that the time with my new good friend was limited. But then the image of his smile and laugh, of how he got the greatest joy out of the simplest things, such as his beloved Texas A&M Aggies defeating my Alabama Crimson Tide, getting a scare thrown in him in their football game, or a deer that had been sighted outside the small patch of woods across the street from our neighborhood.
Brad was a fantastic photographer. I could sit for hours and look at his work, much of which was from East Texas, where we both grew up — me in Tyler and him in Mineola. He continued to take photos in the area as Jan would drive and he'd click away.
However, as time went on, the photo drives became less. So did our long visits. So did his visits with pretty much everyone except Jan, their children and nurses.
One of our last good visits was outside his house. His son had brought his classic car by that he had restored himself. Brad was so proud — and with good cause as this was one very cool ride.
The last time I saw Brad smile was a few days before he left this world. We were reminiscing about our younger years in East Texas, which we did a few times and which always made him happy. It did me too.
Then, just as quickly as we met, Brad died. I'm not ashamed to say I cried. I'm still misting up as I write this, which took me a few weeks to work up the strength to do.
I miss my friend. I miss walking outside my front door and seeing him tinkering in the garage, or getting home late at night from a football game or event ,and seeing him in there. The man loved to tinker and fix things.
If only he could have found a way to fix his own health.
Brad is proof that it's not how long you live, but how great you live. Judging from the short amount of time I knew him, my belief is that he packed more life into his 74 years than if he had lived to be 125.
I'm not angry that my prayers for him to live longer weren't answered in the fashion I desired. Let's face it, God missed one of his angels.
So do a lot of us here on Earth.
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