I returned to Georgia on Monday night, and last night my friend Grace and I finally had an opportunity to catch up on the phone. A few minutes into the conversation she told me that she thought my friend "the oncologist" (a nickname that sort of stuck) had died while I was gone. After she gave me a few details, I knew it was him. I suppose that fortunately his death had made the news, which had caught her attention, and she knew enough about the oncologist to realize it was my friend Mark. I hate having missed the service in honor of him, and of course, I hate this feeling of such sadness.
I cannot begin to explain how remarkable Mark is or rather was. He was beyond description and in some ways comprehension. He was so intelligent, engaging, and emotionally in-tune to me (even after having known me only for minutes) that it was almost scary. I often wondered how he seemingly found at least ten more hours in his day to read, think for others, practice medicine, raise his children, and the like. And to top it all off, he had overcome what sounded like a pretty harrowing addiction to prescription medication. I think that experience gave him insight and understanding that few have.
We met in a random way; I blogged about it back when I did the letter "M" on my gratitude list, and now my thought is how incredibly lucky I am to have known him at all. I love how he has inspired me just by being him. I could give so many examples of how thoughtful he was. When he learned that I was going to Vegas for the first time, he sent me a package with a book on how to play craps, a $10 bill, and a note written in his signature hand-writing that required deliberate thought for each letter. You'd have to see it to understand, and you'd likely think it was some sort of computer type. Last year he delivered the most appropriate gift to my office a day before my birthday. He had remembered me telling him over a year before that one of my favorite books was Walden, although I only had an abridged version. So he gave me a leather-bound American Classic verson for my birthday, writing a note that said the following: "I didn't realize Thoreau was 28 when he made his move into the woods. I'd say you're right on schedule. Here's celebrating your birthday--and your leading an examined life." He always had the perfect words that made me feel so understood and cared for--what a gift.
A few days before he died I wrote a postcard to him from Santorini but still have it since I did not have his address with me. Postcards compromised about 95% of our communication this last year, and his notes always made my day. I received the last one in April--it was from Argentina, and he encouraged me in my decision to leave the firm. He was the sort that understood what was important, taking many vacations (which often included surfing and the like), planning elaborate scavenger hunts for his three children, thinking for others in ways that always made me feel like he knew me better than anyone else in the world. What a gift to have known him--and have a huge envelope full of letters, postcards, and brillantly written e-mails from him to remind me of his thoughtfulness, creativity, and kindness, which will hopefully continue to inspire me to be the same. I am a better person for having known Mark Williams, and I will always cherish having shared a bit of his life.