"There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done ... Keep me in your heart for awhile."
One of my oldest and dearest friends, John Schoepke, passed away the other day. John was 57.
John and I met in seventh grade at Riverview Middle School in Glendale. Along with our mutual friend Steve, we became "the three amigos". As time went by, a few other great guys - Evan, Jeff, Joe, Mark - all joined our little hangout gang. A person couldn't ask for a better group of friends.
After high school, John got his MBA from Northwestern and moved to New York before settling in Chicago. Through the years and the miles, we remained frends.
John was brilliant and generous. He also had the most biting sense of humor of anyone I've ever met. At the same time, he could be maddening. You see, John didn't suffer fools well - and I think the world tried his patience from time to time.
As we grew older, we didn't see each other as much. Still, whenever we all got together, it was like no time had passed - and we were all still back at Nicolet High School.
I was going through some photo albums last night ... and John was everywhere. A summer debate workshop at Northern Michigan University, our high school graduation party, our Fouth of July and New Year's Eve get togethers, my wedding, my one election night as a candidate, Summerfest, baseball games, Jimmy Buffett concerts, multiple trips to Florida and Las Vegas and one to the South of France.
Thanks to John there's a bar in Lyon, France that I still don't think I can go back to.
The point is: we Forrest Gump-ed our way through each other lives. That's what good friends are for.
Our friend Mark passed away a few years ago. Did I mention that cancer sucks? Still, I thought that was an aberration. I thought the rest of us had all the time in the world. I guess not.
We all knew that John had been having some health issues over the last few years. For whatever reason, I think John chose not to let the rest of us know how severe they were. Maybe he just wanted us to remember all the good times ... and there sure were a lot of those.
I last saw John a year ago next weekend. He and our friend Jeff had come into town for a car show. On the last night of the visit, all of the afore-mentioned hangout gang was together.
For some reason, I felt compelled to offer a toast. We all stood and drank to "absent friends and the green hills of yesterday". I had no idea that John was destined to become one of those absent friends.
My life has been richer and fuller because I was lucky enough to have John Schoepke as a friend. I shall miss him greatly.