Every man needs Tonto to teach him how to take off the mask

And a youth said, “Speak to us of Friendship.”
Your friend is your needs answered.
She is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
Kahlil Gibran

After leaving my new friends still loitering on the hillside looking out to Mt. Hood I took the buzz along with me across the bridge into Hood River and made the decision to start my next round at Brian’s Pour House where I had been directed by more than one manager at the vineyards I had been drinking at most of the day. It wasn’t hard to find. In fact I practically fell into it after parking the car in the only space left available in town. As is my tradition I took my seat at the corner of the bar just inside the front door. The place was packed and there was already a lot of energy in the room so I ordered a glass of the local pinot and started with their tuna tartare. The fish was off the hook good and the wine was exactly what I expected; big, rich and a mouthful of delightful. It wasn’t more than five minutes after my food arrived that Julie and her friend Rena came in and sat at the only two seats left at the bar, the ones next to mine. Mind you those seats were the last to be filled. Lots of folks came in after I sat down and they sat everywhere but in those two chairs. I can’t be sure in hindsight who had kept those chairs in reserve but Clarence may have been in the room looking for Jimmy Stewart and figured at the time I was the second best option.

I can’t remember how we started our conversation but when two pretty women sit next to me I don’t need or even wait for an invitation I just sort of weigh in, so it wasn’t long before I was going on about my upcoming plan to crisscross the globe by giving the girls a list of every country I was planning on visiting. Never missing a beat to tell more than most people want to know about me I had all the details out on the bar including my plans to do volunteer work and see all the kids I had been sponsoring with Compassion International and yada, yada, yada.

You get the picture. When Julie and Rena finally got a chance to get a word in edgewise they clued me in to their life’s work outside the office grind and how they were raising money to launch a voucher program for breast cancer pre-screening. It had already been launched and was being very well received all over Oregon. They were hosting galas, doing speaking tours, publishing newsletters, you name it. This was a significant program and it was changing lives and in all likelihood saving some as well. As they shared their own personal stories of engagement and the conversation sometimes moved to a discussion between the two of them I heard something that sounded like “still in the fight of her life”.

Then I heard the word that got my attention like a freight train about to run you over; “terminal”.

“Terminal; who the frack is terminal?” I thought to myself.

None of this was making any sense to me. People who are terminal don’t sit down at bars and order cabernet; people who are terminal don’t look like Asian princesses and people who are terminal don’t speak about it as if it’s a head cold; but in fact this woman on my left evidently did. Julie in point of fact had phase four metastatic cancer and for her it was just something that was a little more annoying than a sore throat. This woman had stones. I had known people and friends with cancer before, most of whom were gone, but for one reason or another, this realization hit me like a ton of bricks with the truck carrying them thrown in for good measure. I didn’t know Julie from Adam but I was deeply moved. I thought of the unfairness of it and how some people have to fight that fight and how some of us don’t. I felt guilty. I tried to imagine how I might feel, how I might react, how I might give in or stand up if I had been issued that diagnosis and I thought about how I could only hope I could mange that news with such grace. Out of nowhere I just blurted out:

“Julie, if you could wave your magic wand which country of all the ones I am traveling to would you like to visit the most?”

Without the slightest hesitation she said “Ethiopia”.

“Ethiopia, no kidding.” I responded.

I thought to myself why not the beaches of Columbia or the green valley’s of Europe, or the majesty of the Himalayas . Nope Julie wanted to step onto the desert where it all began. Where humanity took its first steps. Julie was called to Africa..

“Well then Miss Julie, I guess I’m going to have to fly you to Ethiopia and you’re going to have to join me there to do some volunteer work in October next year.”

With this exhortation there was as you can expect a sudden silence at our end of the bar. The bald white dude, who no one had ever laid eyes on before, from a town back east no one had ever heard of before, had just invited someone he had never seen before, to a country neither had ever been to before. Yep, that was pretty freaking normal at “Brian’s”.

Julie didn’t even blink. “Sounds good to me”.

Rena at this point is in tears. She’s got the camera out and we’re taking pictures and shit, and hugging and shit and ordering more wine and shit and finally we’re just talking about logistics and exchanging contact information and shit and paying the bill and shit and finally I blurted out“I gotta go”. I stood up, shook hands and made my exit.

I’m sure all Rena and Julie could think as I walked out the door was “What the hell just happened and who the heck was that “nutbag”.
Actually I’m not sure what they thought but I emailed Julie as soon as I got back east to assure her I was not some madman from a third dimension and that my offer was so real it was blooming in my soul at that very moment. Julie replied she knew that the instant she met me and accepted again. The planning began.

Mystically, months after our meeting at Brian’s, Julie would tell me about how afterwards she found a note that had been written to her by her friends Rebecca and Eric. That note was penned when they were praying over her years before when she was very sick. It said she would always live with her cancer, her feet would touch the ground of Africa and that she would meet a travel companion. I’m still getting over that revelation.

Julie made it to Africa and she even made it to Vietnam. God had certainly introduced us for a reason and I’ll always consider myself blessed to have been his cocktail olive at the bar that fateful afternoon.


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