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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Too Many Leaving Too Soon

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Noah Silliman
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Unsplash

I don’t know how many hours of my life I spent hanging with David Foster III. Dozens, for sure. Maybe hundreds.

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We all called him Frosty. He was a gifted photographer with The Charlotte Observer, good at everything but special when it came to sports. He was a great hang — fun to shoot the breeze with after the game was over, or maybe out back at Thomas Street Tavern, or just in the office on a random afternoon when he’d come plop down by my desk.

I had lunch the other day with another old colleague and ran into a third one on the way out. Then I got back home to find out that Frosty had died at age 52.

I’m 57. This is the time when the people around you start dying — young enough to still be a shock, but not so young that you simply can’t believe it.

Not quite four years ago, my best friend, Virgil Ryals, came downstairs one morning in his house down in Georgia, sat in his recliner and had a heart attack. He was 53. He loved James Bond and the Lakers and dumb ‘80s bands — big Duran Duran guy — and I can’t count how many times since he died that I’ve picked up the phone by reflex to send him a text. His memory is a part of me as much as blood and bone.

Every morning I scan the obituaries, looking for people who died who were around my age. There’s almost always one or two. Many were, like me, overweight. Being fat is a pretty strong indicator that you’re not going to be the oldest one on the obit page. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, had some success with it recently, backslid some during COVID-19. These deaths of friends remind me to try again and try harder.

But they also remind me that even in the best-case scenario, I’m somewhere on the other side of halftime. We’ve been having some work done on our house, and one of the crews asked if they could come on a Saturday. We said yes because we wanted them to go ahead and get done. But part of me thought: How many spring Saturdays have we got left?

The great infuriating mystery, of course, is that nobody knows. One thing I know is that, especially as the pandemic fades, I’m longing to rebuild old friendships. I’ve been thinking about what it means to miss somebody. Of course it means you want to see them. But it can also mean something more concrete — that you’ve bypassed them somehow, because your lives were too busy, or it was just easier not to reach out.

It had been a while since we’d seen Frosty. We missed him, and now we miss him. Maybe he’ll be the one to keep us from making that mistake again.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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