In walking distance of where I stay, there’s a small, charming church. Most days I pass it when I walk through the neighborhood instead of driving to the park. My walks in the park are quite pleasurable. When I do walk in the park, it’s a promise that my day will go well. But the neighborhood stroll is sometimes easier and convenient. Besides, it’s delightful to witness the neighborhood’s ebb and flow coming to life.
While it has appeal, the church isn’t stunning, like a cathedral. It has several chalkboards on one side of the entrance, and at the top of the chalkboards it states I AM PRAYING FOR . . . and the pray-er fills in a name. Over the past few years I’ve written my own name in a space. But a time or two have written the name of someone I’m aware is tackling complex life issues.
This morning, I stopped to check out the names. All three chalkboards were filled with names from the popular to the classical to the distinguished. Casually, I began perusing the names and my heartbeat elevated at the name Kent. It was a gentle reminded of a dear friend I’d acquired while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We worked together in pre-World Wide Web Silicon Valley.
Kent was handsome, a charmer, intelligent, creative, self-effacing, and one of the dearest and best friend’s I’ve ever had. Among other things, he was the one person I could ask to read an 800-page manuscript and he’d read it inside a week and offer genuine criticism, albeit circumspect. We were very close friends. He’d talk of “women” but I knew that Kent was gay.
Eventually he moved to D.C. We stayed in touch through cards, letters, and occasional long-winded long distance phone calls which were costly back then. I went through a breakup that was intense. Kent called me every night with, I’m praying for you, because he, of all of my friends at the time, understood how much that particular relationship made me doubt my judgment on every level.
Out of the blue, Kent called to tell me he was moving “back home.” Although I wasn’t one-dimensional, I lacked the skills I have developed and are second nature to me now. I didn’t have the slightest “deep knowing” I now possess. And I also wasn’t “superficial,” but didn’t pick up on things I would sense miles away today. Kent loved living in D.C.; he was happy and content there; and he had a great job. I should have known something wasn’t right.
Soon after Kent returned to the Bay Area, an opportunity presented itself and I move back to SoCal. Therefore, I wasn’t around him to see his degeneration. On phone calls, he clearly sounded different, and when I inquired with “What’s going on with you?” he’d poo-poo my mild concern with excuses like, “What do you mean?” and “Just tired.”
It was the late ’80s, and cell phones were so not the norm. Everyone I knew still relied on landlines and answering machines. I’d call my machine to check messages remotely. Kent had left a message and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I was unable to shake the sound of his voice and his bizarre message. It stayed with me all day. When I called him later that evening, I received no answer.
The following day he called me around midnight. We talked briefly. He always ended his calls with “Good-bye, I love you.” Yet this particular evening Kent ended his call with Pray for me. In those days I didn’t pray. Kent left me in the dark. Pray for what? In hindsight, I am ashamed of not having made even a clumsy attempt to pray for him.
Two days later his cousin called to tell me Kent had passed away. I screamed, “What?!”
Kent had died of AIDS.
I stood in front of the church gazing at the name Kent, and although it was twenty plus years later, I bowed my head and said a prayer.