We all lament the passage of time -- especially as we get older and the years seem to disappear like months -- but we shouldn't.
After all, when you really stop to think about it those who live long enough to endure the passage of time are the fortunate ones. How many have been hurled into the great beyond after only a few short years in the physical world? They would have given anything to enjoy a few more loops around the giant burning ball before succumbing to one of the many mortalities of life on Earth.
For those fortunate enough to enjoy a lengthy, healthy existence, there are certain significant milestones that occur along the way ... occurrences that leave an indelible mark on our soul.
One such moment happened to me exactly 20 years ago this Tuesday, Oct. 1. That was the day I bent over and kissed one of my best friends goodbye as he slipped into history. At the youthful age of 40 - that's right youthful - he had fought the good fight but his body just couldn't withstand any more of the cancer that was devouring him. But make no mistake, he died with dignity and courage. His final days were an inspiration and a guide.
I first met Jayme Neubauer after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. It was the early 1990s as I recall, and he seemed determined to prove wrong the experts who gave him just a few short months to live.
A tough, yet gentle man, quick to laugh with a wit and intelligence that certainly appealed to me as well as countless others, Jayme was a police officer by trade and an all-around good guy by life. As a "cop" he defined the true meaning of serve and protect, and he detested any law-enforcement agent who interpreted that credo to mean harass and intimidate.
It was friend at first sight. He laughed at my stupid jokes, had a unique insight that always made me chuckle and, rarest of rare, actually listened to me. Neither one of us suffered fools lightly, and our bond became unbreakable as we swapped life stories and observations on just about any subject imaginable. We sat together for hours, perfectly content to talk about any subject that came to mind as we sipped on a few adult beverages. I always felt better after spending time with Jayme. To say I miss him just doesn't cover it. It's been two decades since he passed, and I still glance at his photo in my office on a daily basis ... and remember.
Following our initial meeting, I soon found out that Jayme's father, Jerry, raised purebred quarter horses on a farm just north of Decorah. Naturally, as a lifelong equestrian, I asked Jayme if I could join him on a ride some afternoon. But rather than jump at the opportunity, he was hesitant.
"We don't have a lot of well-broke horses, so I don't know if that's such a good idea."
He then proceeded to tell how many times through the years people had begged him to take them on a horseback ride but invariable a seemingly innocuous adventure had turned into a fiasco when the "guest" found themselves astride a horse they couldn't handle.
"I understand that," I told Jayme. "But you've got to give me a chance. I promise you won't be sorry."
Two days later, Jayme suddenly appeared in front of my house in a Cadillac sedan deville -- pulling a horse trailer. I was blown away. Now this is my kind of cowboy, I thought.
We headed south to Volga Lake and spent the next five hours riding side-by-side exchanging stories on everything from the old AFL football league to marriage to horses and things that can't be mentioned here. I was aboard a stout little gelding named Hap, and Jayme's mount of choice was the magnificent mare Jackie. It was a day I'll never forget. I can still see that sly grin of his with a cigarette dangling from his lips as we covered every inch of ground Volga had to offer.
That was the first of countless rides we shared over the next two years as Jayme tried to drink-in every ounce of the time he had left. Ultimately, however, the end drew near.
It became readily apparent to me one morning when I drove out to his place. It was a clear, summer day and I was looking forward to spending some more quality time with my dear friend. Everything seemed normal until I walked into his home. Instead of welcoming me with that good-natured smirk, he was just sitting on the couch with a rather blank, faraway expression on his face.
"What's up 'Twelver (his nickname)?' " I asked.
"Oh nothing, I'll be alright in a minute or two," he said.
I knew he was lying.
"Tell me about it homey. What's got you down, other than the fact you're dying and all? (He loved it when I told the truth, unlike so many others who ignored it - or pretended to.)
"It's just hard sometimes in the morning," he said. "When I'm asleep I forget completely about the cancer, and it doesn't dawn on me right away when I wake up. But then it hits me hard --- some days are worse than others."
His eyes were full of tears. I didn't quite know what to do so I sat down and put my arm around him. We remained that way for a long, long time.
A few weeks later, he was gone. Happy trails my friend.