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Courage Redefined

Twenty two years ago I had the good fortune of meeting my friend “S”. I had just arrived in a big city from a small town. S had grown up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City and had traveled the world. He has a legendary Irish temper. I have a stubborn Indian one. He is white. I am brown. Politically, we lean to different ends of the spectrum. Despite our different roots, S took me under his wing in the most protective way possible. We were working at a multi-national company with a concentration of old boys at the helm. S helped me overcome my anxiety, taught me the corporate ropes, and explained that old boys don't have to control our destiny. He was a Philosophy major in college and took to technology like a fish takes to water. He had an amazing grasp of nuances that had taken me years to learn. In hindsight, he provided much-needed air cover to me in those early days.

S's writing is precious a gift he bequeathed to his circle. It opened my world in innumerable ways. Not just his words, but the way he organizes and presents leaves you wanting more. To this day, my default Microsoft template has a specific set of features: Times New Roman, font size 11, line spacing of multiple and 1.2, double justification, and level 1 headings are blue in small caps. He may not remember these details but these were his standards and they became mine. As for organizing thoughts on paper, a simple question from him rings in my ear constantly: "What is the point of this?" The content of our professional writing was the exact opposite of creative, but he managed to make it exciting. I would salivate over his writing like I do over warm apple pie. How did he say all of that in so few words? How did he engage the reader so well? He would chuckle over my long-winded, uniquely Indian way of writing. "When should I breathe?" he once asked while reading my meandering sentences. He consistently inspired me to do better. He is the best mentor I’ve had. Hands down.

As life tends to do, it took us down different roads. We crossed paths again when he hired us to work for him. He was demanding as a client but we didn’t expect anything less. While we had moments of doubt about the scope of the engagement, he led the way fearlessly. When they came to our annual holiday parties, S, his wife, Tarun, and I reconnected without missing a beat. Last year I did a shoddy job of inviting our friends for the party because my head and heart were not in the right place after my Dad's passing. I missed inviting S. I realized the oversight a couple of weeks before the party and immediately contacted him. I knew he would understand.

S responded promptly. He couldn’t come. He had been battling cancer for several months and was doing poorly. The disease and the treatment had ravaged his body. He told me the details which I was so thankful to know but I was utterly frustrated that this was happening to him. While I’ve oscillated between sadness and hope, he’s been on an even keel throughout. Recently he texted me in a post-anesthesia cognitive fog. Pretty funny stuff. Later we laughed when he wondered why he was allowed to use a cell phone in the recovery room. Through the years, we've taken a keen interest in each other's children who have gone from little tykes to successful adults in the blink of an eye. As we have texted through his treatments, we have talked about the kids, not just his health.

In his inimitable way and even during his most difficult time, he has redefined courage for me.

S and his wife are selling their home near us and moving to their dream location soon, to a house on a lake in the mountains. His family has traveled to this town every summer since I have known them. I pray that the air and water in this idyllic location will provide an unending source of joy and peace to S and his family. My teacher, my mentor, my friend I wish you all the luck, love, health, and cheer. I am going to hang on tight to what you said: “Of course we will stay in touch! You have always been a very special friend. Moving 500 miles further away will not change this...Take good care!”

My sentiments exactly. Your courage has pushed me from the day I met you and will continue to do so regardless of the distance between us. I will take care. You do too.

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