Natural Bridges State Beach. One that I've documented on my fun "This week on..." Instagram feed for the past two years. Usually when I go there are only sea birds present, maybe the occasional human being or two, or small groups of people, families and friends visiting the beach depending on the time of year.
And then one morning almost a year and a half ago, a seal lion pup lay on the beach and barked as I passed it. But something seemed wrong with it. It acted weak, its bark muted, its head lolled slowly back and forth. It looked like it tried to waddle it's way back to the sea, but it wasn't really moving. I passed it by twice before I decided that I couldn't just keep going and do nothing, so I stopped and went up to the visitor center to tell one of the Natural Bridges staff members about the possibly sick pup.
I also sent texted my friend Doug Ross (who I interviewed last year on one of my Reach West Radio podcasts). Doug volunteered for the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals along the Californian and Hawaiian coasts, so I knew he'd want me to let him know. When he didn't respond to the text, I called him. He was already on the way to Natural Bridges to help rescue the pup.
"Why don't you stay and help me?" he asked.
"Ugh. I would, but I've got back-to-back conference calls I've got to get back to," I answered, after an awkward pause.
"Sure you do," he chided me.
"Ugh. Damn you. I do, though," I said.
"Don't worry about," he said. "I'm just giving you a bad time. I'm almost there and I already called the center. Go do your calls."
commercial artist who created amazing illustrations for HR technology articles (among many other industries and genres), and I was an extrovert marketing professional who worked in HR technology. We sat only one cubicle apart.
The joke at the time with those who worked near us was that you never knew Doug was there unless you saw his tall, quiet frame leaning over his keyboard, fixated on his computer screen with some new project. Yet you always knew I was there because of the noise complaints. I was on the phone constantly and my booming voice reverberated throughout the open office. It got so bad that the co-working facility actually installed sound boards inside my cubicle to absorb my loud cadence. It didn't work.
Once I left the co-working space, Doug and I didn't see each other all that regularly, but when we did, usually for lunch, it was like we'd been friends for decades, always giving each other a hard time as well as talking seriously about our lives, our ups and downs and all arounds. We collaborated on a career management book I wrote and his amazing illustrations graced the pages throughout. He also went with me to SXSW a few years back, where I promoted my book and he promoted his artwork.
one day at the beach where I met my lovely wife all those years ago, and now it hangs proudly in our living room.
Life got complicated with kids and work and we saw less of each other, but always making time for lunch now and again. His wife Ginger has horses, and so for a few years now we've taken our girls out to ride. But then the horse they always rode named Lulu passed away, and it had been a while since we'd seen both Doug and Ginger.
Which was why it was such a shock when she called us just weeks before the holidays to tell us that Doug had died unexpectedly. He'd been working hard late at night in his art studio, and then the next morning she found him dead. In the blink of an eye. I cannot imagine. I do not want to imagine.
Selfishly, the first thing I thought about was that I had planned on calling him to schedule a lunch to catchup. It had been since late summer when we got together last. However, the planning and doing are worlds apart. Always are. And the fact is I never did it.
The second thing I thought about was my own mortality. Doug was only a few years older then me, and seemingly in good overall health, as am I. Again, cannot imagine. Do not want to.
The third thing I thought about was the mindful presence I try to live in every day:
The time is always now again -- the now of every beat and breath and being completely well in. It ain't easy, but it's certainly worth my family's while.
And a friend's while as well. Make the time now again. God bless Doug, his wife and his family.