Near or far, our friends enrich life’s journey

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

My father knew him for 25 years; yet, he never met the man.

A mutual reader connected the two columnists, sending my father’s tribute to his 17-year-old son killed in a water-skiing accident to Raleigh’s A.C. Snow.

Mr. Snow used my father’s article, a letter to the lost son, as the basis for one of his columns.

More columns were exchanged, and a long-distance relationship began with each man admiring the other’s talent.

They wrote with a similar flair. Both penned slice- of-life stories laced with insight and a touch of humor. Both had the unique ability to find the universal message in the details of daily living. They loved words and the craft of putting the reader right beside them on their journey.

They were unmet friends with a common love and a common audience brought together by the honest words of life after tragic loss.

Then on Father’s Day in 1996, the two men connected at a deeper level, one that far too many parents endure.

Mr. Snow’s oldest daughter was killed in an automobile accident. A reckless driver had lost control of her vehicle, crashed into a guard rail and fatally injured his daughter.

Dad reached out to Mr. Snow, calling him to express his condolences. The friendship grew, developing even more when dad decided to write a book about the loss of his son.

My father died in 2003, but not before connecting me with Mr. Snow for my own professional support and guidance. I, too, gained an unmet friend, this time via e-mail.

Then, one evening during at University of North Carolina alumni meeting in Chapel Hill, I shared a meal with a fellow board member who spoke of a columnist friend from Raleigh.

It was A.C. Snow.

“I’ve been trying to get A.C. to come to a Carolina football game for years,” my new friend, Dick Taylor, told me. Although he lives two hours away, he was an avid UNC fan with season tickets.

“Tell him I said, ‘Hello,'” I said, explaining the history of our close yet distant relationship.

And he did.

Four months and two board meetings later, Dick had a plan for us to meet.

“There he is,” I pointed out to Robin, my friend of 30 years who faithfully meets me on my periodic trips to Chapel Hill.

In a sea of Carolina blue, the distinguished gentleman stood out in his dark coat and tie. His crisp white shirt matched his silver hair, both radiating a reserved energy tempered by time and experience. He looked so wise.

We hugged.

“Dad has to be smiling now,” I whispered to him. And I babbled on, as I often do when mountain-top experiences plunge into the reality of now.

His voice was as I had imagined, tinged with a rich but refined southern accent. But every word was a thoughtful one, carefully crafted, like my father’s.

I wish I had taken notes.

Thank goodness for e-mail where unspoken words can be captured and tamed with edits. We now e-mail with renewed vigor, pushing back and forth columns, ideas and philosophy.

His Nov. 7 column in Raleigh’s The News & Observer described our football game experience and insights.

“If football were a religion … watching on TV is like being baptized by ‘sprinkling,’ the Methodist way,” he wrote. “Being there is ‘total immersion,’ the Baptist way. In autumn, either can be stimulating,” he concluded.

So it is, too, Mr. Snow, with friendship.

Unmet or met, over a 30-minute meal or 30-year friendship, friends stimulate our minds and enrich our souls.

Indeed, life’s journey is a little easier when shared.