Feature - Next Stop Paradise



Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Friends are always near.  As one ages, we must hold on to our memories of them.

When most of us were young, we lost very few except in war.  Our friends sometimes did not come back.  WWII was a grim reaper for those young and so full of life who once we knew.

Our friends and family go on an infinite journey all too often.

When I was an older student, I took some classes from an interesting man named Tom.  He was on a journey.

He taught the Philosophy of Science and Mathematics. I was an engineering, science and mathematics student, so we shared some interests.  Interest in sports proved a stronger common bond.

Like some other teachers that I had, he allowed me to do my own reading and research without classroom obligations.  That was good for me and a kind gesture by him to an older student.

He had been at the Military Academy at West Point. His father was a lifetime soldier.  Tom was a great athlete, playing football, baseball and basketball for Army.  He was a natural in most sports that he tried.  He was not a natural soldier.  He once told me that his father was born a century too late.  Tom might have been born a century or two too soon. 

Tom was a spiritual man too.  He migrated to a Dominican Monastery for its contemplative ways.  After some years the Abbot asked him if he wanted to take final vows or did he just like the food.  He was a prolific eater, but never gained weight.  The hint was clear though ...

He left the monastery and got a PhD from Notre Dame.  He became a serious thinker about the cosmos and the relationship of science to human thought and action.  He wrote several books and many serious articles.  One of his books he wrote with Ken, who became my friend too.

Tom entered my life for good by dropping over to visit my children.  He was one of those natural people who could wear out kids in play as opposed to other adults who fake their relationship with children.  Kids know another just larger kid.

Tom had one annoying habit.  He was always late except for a heavyweight championship fight or a good dinner.  He knew that early round knockouts were common and food disappeared. 

He had a vague idea of time.  Just a few years ago, he asked my thoughts about time in the universe.  It's a fascinating subject.  I told him to forget about time and think of vibration.  I don't know what he thought of that.

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My children loved Tom and he shaped their lives in subtle, but significant ways.  He talked to them and played games to their exhaustion, never his.  He would, however, fall asleep reading to them crowded close by.  As they grew up, memories of Tom never left them.

Tom was a legend at the University.  He and a young professor friend, Harry, were the darlings of the co-eds.  I think the young women took their classes, just to observe thinking men first hand.  With Tom a legend grew among them.  They said he was 900 years old and really a guru on loan, or so they thought.  Maybe he was just that.

These men, Tom and Harry and Ken another teacher visited my eldest son in Alaska.  It was all arranged by Ken. 

My son lived in the wilderness without running water.  He was dying with an incurable form of rare cancer.  He was still vibrant and able to build a cabin and climb mountains like a goat.  The visit was very important to him.

His memory of Tom never diminished.  When my son saw him, he broke into a broad smile that did not leave.  The three friends Tom Harry and Ken talked to my son in the wilderness endlessly.  They all slept in a loft.  It was a magic few days.

Tom never stopped writing.  Each day, he would arise and write.  His thoughts were intricate and took a lot of effort to unravel for me.  I cannot say, I ever mastered the full impact of his writings.  My son too wrote every day.  He did a journal that was illustrated by him with great style and care.  Maybe Tom inspired that too.

In a way Tom was a visionary.  Scientists would disagree with some of his ideas, but then again agree with some too.  Tom wanted to see over the horizon.  His views were somewhat pantheistic.

He could dominate a room, but had to be coaxed to do so.  Once I put a dinner group together that included teachers, a lawyer and a minister.  I knew that if I could get Tom engaged, the evening would be fun.

You could never tell.  Sometimes Tom would fold in upon himself and never engage, but this time he did stay with us and all who were there that night never forgot it.

Recently, Tom too became ill with cancer.  His wife a former head nurse at Stanford University Medical Center, said that he was given an option.   A few months more with an experimental drug or ....

He chose to continue his journey.  Quiet like, slip away, he'll be going home.

His near last thoughts were recalled by his wife, Joan.  Tom said:


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Thursday, February 02, 2017