I’m past the stage of shock now, two weeks after catching up with my best friend from junior high school.
“Catching up” isn’t the right phrase, though. It was as if I had him back, for a few moments. Then I lost him again.
Let me explain. We were inseparable from the moment we met. He attended a church that would have – at least in our parents’ eyes – made us spiritual cousins, but we knew we were brothers. We played chess. We launched rockets together. We talked Trek. His birthday was exactly one year behind mine, to the day.
When he went to college, he showed me this incredible device called a computer to which only he and a few others had lock, key and password access. It was fantastic. He showed me a game that printed on a plotter the path of a landing lunar module as you periodically typed in thrust commands and the screen displayed remaining fuel and distance and speed. He wanted to become a medical doctor, but I could tell he had a great affinity for this new device. I encouraged him to think about what it could mean if someone created, with the device, a huge repository of medical information from which doctors could draw.
We didn’t stay in touch, other than Christmas cards and the occasional phone call over the many years. The Christmas cards stopped a couple of years ago. Now I know why.
I Googled his name one day out of a sudden stroke of curiosity. The results happened to show up more or less chronologically.
He had become a medical doctor. He had written scholarly papers about creating medical databases and how doctors could use PDAs in the rounds, years before these became common practices. He had labored at the forefront of protecting those databases from corruption in a Y2K crisis.
Then, just five years ago, he volunteered as a street medic at some anti-war protests, expecting to treat the sort of injuries that one treats at marathons and street fairs and parades. Something went wrong. There was some violence. There were serious injuries. My friend began writing articles about methods used to subdue the protests. He began to wonder why unarmed people would put themselves into physical danger to protest war as he followed more rallies in other cities.
He began to research their claims, and to write extremely well-written, documented, and defended articles about war, peace, protest, and policy. He left the profession of medicine to pursue the profession of peace. He maintained at least a couple of Web sites. He pulled no punches. He had no fear of authority. Always articulate, he coined some quotes which found their way around the Web and became more or less famous. Other sites quoted him as an authority. I was sad to see that a couple called him a humanist. Eventually, he came to host a locally-produced – but widely syndicated – television show about topics of war, peace, protest and policy.
Then, two years ago, the television show’s Web site announced his departure. His Web sites went offline. His e-mail addresses apparently went dead; my e-mails to him were returned undelivered. There were no online records of him past 2003.
Now you have guessed why I haven’t shared his name, for I do not know his fate. Whatever it is; wherever it is, he will always be my friend. True to his beliefs, true to himself, true to all others. Because when he cannot be true, he will be silent. He is Kipling’s (and Solomon’s) “Thousandth Man.” I would no more want to endanger him nor his beliefs by pursuing his friendship than he would mine.
I know what he believes. And I know why.
We are brothers.