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Marilou Johanek


Death underscores the need to stop and smell the roses of friendship



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    Marilou Johanek

    The Blade
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Marilou Johanek

The Blade
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The second day of the new year was his last. Tom Shay, a news producer at WFMJ-TV in Youngstown, died on Jan. 2.

He was a broadcast colleague of mine from way back. More important, he was a cherished friend. But as with so many other friends with busy lives, my contact with Tom had become limited over the years.

You know how it goes. People and pressures keep us preoccupied 24/​7. Career planning, financial stresses, family problems, decisions, and daily demands exhaust energy.

We spend hours of sleepless nights worried about tomorrow. Money — mostly not having enough of it — is a common curse of insomniacs.

With kids, your worries go beyond providing the basics to parenting and preparing young people for adulthood. Affording college, health care, and retirement contributes to consuming apprehension.




The salve for our insecurity is to text, tweet, and post. It makes us feel connected. Responses and pictures are instant. Commiseration is fast, easy, enough.

Digital communication fits our lifestyles. Who has time for anything else? Everybody is overbooked. Fulfilling expectations is an endurance trip.

Life is about anticipating the next move, the next hurdle, the next crisis. We tell friends we’ll get together the next time, when our schedules permit.

We and our friends know it won’t happen. There’s just too much on our plates. In a blink, the days, weeks, and months go by.

Years flip like pages in a book. Remember when Y2K had people hyperventilating? It’s 2014. No big deal.

Occasionally we wonder where the time went, as we race ahead to what comes next, what can’t be missed, what needs resolution, what will cost a ton.

We get caught up in a rapidly moving stream of planning and positioning for the future. We overlook the fleeting possibilities of the present.

We’re too busy meeting deadlines and obligations to do what it takes to cultivate deep, lasting relationships. Typing a few words to stay in touch is a poor excuse for maintaining human bonds.

If we were honest, we would concede as much and confess that texting, tweeting, and scrolling through posts are simply easier than carving out time to visit a friend. That takes effort we’re not willing to expend in lives that are run by the clock and bombarded by responsibilities.

Before Tom succumbed to complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I encountered a dear friend who reminded me of a promise I’d made to stop over before the snow fell. It was snowing.

I hugged her in my haste to get where I was going, and promised again that I would make a date soon. Sigh.

At the beginning of a new year, people are wont to pause, ever so briefly, and examine where they’ve been and where they want to go. They reflect on prior plans and reset intentions to do more or be more.

Usually at this time of the year, I like to make political predictions. I’m a hopeless politics junkie who is addicted to following the machinations of our time.

There is so much on the state, national, and international stage that calls for scrutiny and debate. But a pundit’s guesswork about what may or may not happen in Ohio, Washington, and the world can wait.

What can’t wait are friendship and face-to-face connections with human beings. That takes resolve and humble recognition of misplaced priorities.

It shouldn’t take regret. But sometimes it does, to see that now is all the time we have to talk, laugh, relate, and reminisce with each other. Now is all the time we have for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a meeting of souls.

Next time may never come. We’re all guilty of letting the treadmill control us instead of the other way around. But running in place never gets anyone anywhere.

Resolve to jump off the treadmill this year, just once or twice. Make a new start with old friends. Plan for it on your schedule. Don’t cancel.

We need each other to make sense of what’s important. We need a New Year’s resolution to take time out for good company.

Tom Shay was a good man with a dry sense of humor and a warm heart. His death came too soon. It taught me much about what I missed.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

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