COFFEE AT ELEVEN
A very dear friend of mine died on this day 17 years ago. He was 96, a great age as they say, but I still miss our chats and the times we spent together. When he died, I founded a small committee that set out to erect a plaque in his memory. We planned to raise €2,000 but the fund reached €10,000 within a couple of months and we had to ask people to stop donating. We already had too much money. Instead of a plaque, we commissioned a two-metre tall sculpture in limestone and bronze and we donated the surplus to his favourite charity in Africa.
I sometimes think that his coffee was exceptional not because of the milk, or the brand of coffee, or how it was heated, but because it had a special ingredient of conversation with an old friend who, like too many of my friends, I knew more about after he died than when he was alive. People pass on without us learning more about them because we don't know the right questions to ask, or because we keep meaning to but don't. Life is just like that. I often think of death as being a conversation that won't happen again and those conversations I miss so much when friends pass away.
The kitchen that we chatted in so often is no more, vandals made sure of that when they wrecked the inside of the monastery after the last brother left. But I can still hear his voice, reduced to a whisper from teaching for seventy years. He started teaching at the age of sixteen and still taught a class a day until he was 92. I remember the feel of his arm firmly linked around mine to keep him steady, because at night-time he was virtually blind and once admitted to me that when walking back to the monastery at night, he sometimes walked into hedges because he couldn't see where he was going. I have often said that if I was asked to nominate someone for sainthood, then it would be him.
So, on his anniversary I always try to treat myself to a Br O'Brien Coffee and remember, if only for a few moments, a very special friend. There are worse ways to be remembered.
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