This is how bad news travels these days: Facebook posts. No more telegrams. No long-distance phone calls. No hand-written letters. Not any more.
A late-night check of Facebook finds three messages obtusely hinting that John Pegg, my closest friend my senior year in college, one of the ushers at my wedding, had died. I had to reread and examine the posts before coming to the realization of their meaning.
John was a freshman that 1970-71 year, and I was a senior, but we bonded somehow. I was the resident adviser on the third floor of the dormitory, and he lived next door. He caroused and partied together. Had it not been for John, who was friends with a student in the adjacent women's dorm, I would never have met my wife, who was the student's roommate.
After I married, graduated and began a family, we remained in touch, even though military service took me to Washington, D.C., and he began a career in business. We exchanged periodic letters and occasional phone calls. My wife and I visited him one football weekend when he was still in school. He came to see our baby, and we would stop at his house in Kernersville on that long drive back to Washington and spend few minutes catching up.
We rendezvoused to have dinner together as my family, three children by then, traveled through the Triad area on our way west several years ago. John, by then, was married. Though our lives had turned 180 degrees, our bond coupled immediately, and we vowed to keep in touch. Sometime later, we met at a UNC football game. I was with my wife, and he had an entourage of friends from home. We were briefly young again, kidding each other as we had decades before.
The last time we talked, I had seen an obituary in the alumni magazine for our friend, John's freshman roommate, and I emailed him to ask what had happened. He told me to call him, and I did. He explained that we had lost our friend to suicide, and we grieved together over the phone.
When I was in Atlanta for a conference two years ago, I sought out the Hyatt-Regency hotel, where we had gone in December 1970 before the Peach Bowl game against Arizona State. John and I and two other men had driven to Atlanta for the game. The road trip began with hearty laughter and shenanigans and ended in an icy rain as we returned home, saddened by a loss on the football field but still excited by our adventures, including a peach daquiri in the revolving restaurant bar atop the Hyatt-Regency. When we left there in a rush to meet an appointment, the line for the elevator curled around the room. We decided to take the stairs down 28 floors. Part of the route took us across a roof line, which caught the attention of security guards, who chased after us down the remaining flights. We laughed for years about that pursuit.
I sent a photo of the Hyatt-Regency to John and asked him if he recognized the place. He did.
Friendships are like flower gardens. They must be watered and fertilized frequently. People, unlike flowers, grow apart. People pull up roots and move. Keeping a friendship thriving across physical gaps of hundreds of miles is difficult. You have to work at it. For both of us, our aging adult lives grew too full of other responsibilities — children, jobs, commitments, grandchildren, aging parents. The fragile twine that bound us together stretched and frayed until only social media posts kept us connected.
I apologize for not doing a better job at being an active, accessible friend. Rest in peace.