Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beau Idéal

I lost an old friend the other day, one of the kindest, sweetest people I've ever known. He'd been jousting with leukemia for three and a half years, and when it charged back this spring, the doctors had little left to offer.

Beau was one of the first people I met in college, where we lived in the same dorm suite my freshman year, his senior. I knew within days that I was going to like it there, and he was one of the reasons why. Our suite had an unusual makeup: three seniors, a junior, and four freshmen. Some upperclassmen might have ignored or humiliated the tiresome neophytes, but Beau and the others took the opposite approach, befriending us and showing us the ropes. Beau even helped me out of a tight spot on one occasion, extracting me with great difficulty from my muddy riding boots, which had become fused to my feet. The task wasn't made any easier by the fits of laughter that erupted after the first few comical minutes of tugging and contortions.

Beau went on to become a professor of English literature, something he was probably born to do. He fell in love with a handsome doctor, Brian, and they settled in Philadelphia, living a fairly charmed existence until cancer reared its ugly and unwelcome head.

Although I'd only seen Beau once since college -- and many years ago at that -- I felt as close to him as ever, thanks to the Internet and the shared experience of coping with serious illness. As they trudged the rocky path of treatment, Brian kept everyone apprised with updates, an invaluable gift to those of us far away. Through multiple rounds of chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and the inevitable complications, I found myself clinging to each positive development even though -- or perhaps because -- Beau had confided privately that the odds were very poor. When Brian told us they'd entered the final stretch, I was prepared intellectually if not emotionally.

Not surprisingly, Beau set as worthy an example at the end of his life as he had throughout, facing illness and even death with the quiet grace that was his hallmark. I feel privileged to have been his friend.

Photo courtesy B. Meyer


Anonymous said...

A lovely tribute, Michael, though I'm sorry to be reading it.

sarah pekkanen said...

I'm so sorry, Michael. What a wonderful friend.