This morning, I awoke to discover that my friend, Nels, had died. His wife posted on his Facebook page to inform his friends, coworkers, and loved ones that he had died unexpectedly from an illness. Just the day before, he’d been replying to friends with his usual wry, kind humor.
Now, I cannot even ask him if he considered me a friend. I cannot ask him anything. Ever.
Let me tell you a second-hand Nels story.
After a rough day at work, Nels and some of the fellas walk to the local burger joint - right by the beach - and order some burgers. Nels, being vegan, orders the vegan veggie burger. Minutes later, the waitress returns and the gang descends upon their food. Nels takes a bite, swallows, and exclaims - joyously - "My God, this is the best thing I’ve ever had."
The waitress freezes and turns. Her face is a mask of horror. She says: "Oh! I'm so sorry, I gave you the wrong order!"
Nels, who already knew that, does not miss a beat: "Why did you tell me!" He gestures wildly, slowly-but-with-grand-passion. "I could have lived in ignorance of this joy for my whole life, but you ruined it!"
He laughed. Everyone laughed. When his order - the real order - finally came back from the kitchen, he devoured it merrily. He tipped well.
He brought joy to people, that’s what Nels did. He brought joy to his wife and his children. He brought joy to his friends and coworkers. He brought joy to countless players that never gave his craftsmanship a second thought.
He touched millions of lives, and most of them will never know it.
Maybe you enjoyed the recent Doom’s multiplayer. Maybe Defiance had you firing on all synapses. Maybe you just loved Everquest and Everquest 2. Maybe you hated all of those things, but you remember them.
Nels was a man who worked quietly, never seized credit, and filled any conversation with a combination of kindness and mischief. He was the sort of man that any gathering would be thankful for. He would never stand at the center, but he would be the heart.
I wish we took more time to be thankful for people like Nels. I remember when Red Dead Redemption “failed to meet financial expectations”, and people very like Nels were sent packing by men who would buy a second Porsche to go with their second house later that week. I remember, weeks after laying off the actual Nels, the man who made that decision showed me his new Tesla at his big condo in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Silicon Valley.
This morning, I read that my friend got sick “probably of the flu”. My friend was not the sort to get rich, any riches he had came from his frugality. Frugality dictates that you don’t see a doctor for a run-of-the-mill flu.
This morning, I read that my friend died.
I am filled with both sadness and fury. I wish I could be filled with the joy that was his friendship.
Be like Nels. Be good. Be mischievous. Be kind.
Tip well. It may save someone’s life.