Round Table: Bless the space between a friend and his fatal pain

We all have people in our lives like Greg Herman. You meet him through one part of your life, or through mutual friends, and while you rarely see him, you enjoy every single contact. You might not develop into buddies, but at each long-separated encounter you connect with him as if you were longtime friends.

Greg Herman took his own life this week. I wish I knew why Greg did this, but all but those closest to him will probably never know. I want to write a few words about Greg, and I do not know if they do him justice, or come close in quality to the degree of dark pain he must have felt. But Greg was always a bright spot.

I last saw Greg three months ago at his work place, Columbia Gorge Community College, where co-workers told me Thursday, “There is a huge hole in this place.” At a Chamber open house, we talked briefly over hors d’oeuvres and then he said, “I need to get to work now,” and with his 100-watt smile was gone.

In the foyer of the Indian Creek campus is a table with paper and crafts for people to make remembrances of Greg, copies of his brownie recipe, a selection of books he loved including “Bless the Space between Us,” a book of blessings by John O’Donohue, and a tree for hanging the remembrances. People describe Greg as “poetic,” “humorous,” and “caring.”

“I admire you,” one ornament says.

A few years back, two other friends and I helped Greg move from a rental, and I think he got us lunch and dinner both. There were about four of us who said we’d help with the move, but only two of us showed up. Made for a longer day, but also more time hanging with Greg.

The best part of the experience was just laughing with the guy, but always over observations and memories, rather than quoting movies or other prattle. Given the choice of carrying one load into the house and going with Greg back to the rental, I chose the latter, because it meant another couple of 10-minute bull sessions with this humorous and interesting guy.

His rental had a weird front-room layout and intersection with a narrow open staircase to the tiny bedrooms upstairs and I remember, as we moved his stuff out, the funny way Greg recollected his frustration upon moving in that the front room had no electrical outlets. “Good thing my guitar is acoustic,” he told me.

I think it was that Saturday that Greg and I discovered we had in common living in Port Townsend, Wash., he in the 1970s and Lorre and I in the 1990s. In our unique “small world” connection, I learned that Greg had moved to Port Townsend with a friend, Frank, who Lorre worked with in Port Townsend and became our friend. It was fun to trade notes with Greg and Frank, but there was a serious side to the connection: Greg had departed Port Townsend abruptly, not on bad terms, but in a way that all but severed a number of friendships there. But I sensed that Greg always felt a connection to those friends, or else he would never have revealed to me that we had lived in the same town.

On that moving day, I admired a beautifully framed print celebrating the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. We reminisced together over the places in the picture. A week later, I came to work and the artwork was at my desk, the note from Greg in essence asked me to accept it because it meant more to me than it did to him.

Greg was a gentleman, a musician, a man with a deep intellect and sparking sense of humor.

Greg and I talked music at length once or twice, and I always wished I had done so at more length. Greg and I got to know each other through Riverside Community Church, where he was active 10-12 years ago, including twice ably serving as moderator, or congregation leader. He stopped attending awhile back and I missed him. I am not sure the details of his spiritual journey back then, but as moderator he seemed most interested in helping create a caring place where all people felt welcomed.

The thing about Greg is he was one of those people who you know is truly listening when you talk to them. Greg was interested in other people, and I never had anything other than the sense that he was locked into whatever I was saying. I believe he really cared about other people. I can think of no higher praise.

You are missed, Greg.

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