Last night, while everybody else on earth watched the last presidential debate, I went to a birthday dinner for my friend, Kathy. Two of her other friends were there, and we toasted her birthday and wished her a wonderful year.
We were at my favorite restaurant, Jeffrey’s, where the rooms are quiet and candlelit and you can always pick up the most outrageous gossip from Johnny Guffey, the resident waiter/friend/comedian. We sat and talked about politics and life and work and plans.
“I wonder what Bob would think of this election,” one of the other women said.
Bob was Kathy’s husband, the University of Texas philosophy professor Bob Solomon, who died suddenly almost two years ago. We all agreed he would have been endlessly intrigued and opinionated about the election and the candidates. After all, Bob had always been endlessly intrigued — and brilliantly opinionated — about the spectacle of the world around him. I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever known who was so engaged in life.
After the dinner was over, Kathy drove me home. I told her about the strong feeling that had come over me when Bob’s name had been mentioned — how I could almost see him sitting there with us, leaning over a glass of good wine, smiling, enjoying himself, provoking a heated discussion. For a man who was so learned and intelligent, he had the unusual quality of listening intently to others’ ideas and making you feel as if you had something significant to contribute to any discussion.
Kathy said she frequently felt his presence, as well, in her life. “I’m glad when others feel that, too,” she said.
She continued to drive through the wet, dark streets, and we talked about what we could not believe: That a person and all he was and all he knew and all he meant could simply vanish forever. I didn’t turn around and look at the backseat, but I swear, I was sure someone else was there.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)