The Last Word

When I first got the news about Tim, I wrote the following that night. I’ve wanted to share it every day since then, but also wanted to let his family get through their memorial process, so I’ve left it in draft mode. Some people might find it too specific or visual, and if you’re one of them, then I apologize in advance. I also realize I’ve been (as the man himself would have pointed out) a bit of a one-trick pony lately. I do have some interesting and exciting technical stuff coming up. But for now, here’s my last word about the true impact Tim’s life and death have had for me…

It’s the first night of our Tim-less world, and my family is asleep after a torturous and cathartic day. I’ve had more than a bit of tequila as I processed the sorrow and hot regret of losing my best friend. And I type this, doubting whether I’ll ever click “Publish” because so many people need to agree to discuss it that, at the moment, it seems impossible. But I hope they will agree, because all of the people that knew and loved and admired Tim need to understand the truth of what happened. Or at least as near to the truth as we can ever know about anyone.

Sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning, Tim locked his apartment door, got in his red Mini Cooper, and drove to a secluded boat ramp on Lake Allatoona. Tomorrow was no longer for him.

When they found his car, he was parked facing the water and the battery was dead. I imagine he made sure that the last image he saw was light bouncing off the shimmering waves reflecting the spring trees. I imagine he listened to music while he drifted first to sleep and then…. to sleep. I imagine it was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, but it might also have been Peter Gabriel or Ben Folds Five or Dream Theater — Tim’s taste in music was more impeccable than his code.

As of this writing, no note has been found. He did not leave us a message. I believe this is because he was the message. Everyone that knew Tim has shared stories of his generosity, his laughter, his gentleness, his humility, his brilliance. And these are the things for which he should and will always be revered.

But beneath this he carried a dark and heavy passenger. He struggled to form intimate relationships. He struggled to find new ways to stimulate his incredible mind. He struggled to separate his fantasies about how the world should be from how it really is. Even his Twitter byline “I laugh in the face of the impossible” underscores an abiding contempt for reality over the world he wanted.

There is no evading reality, not even for an intellect as powerful as Tim’s. And the reality is that Tim could not figure out how to be happy. He tried all the remedies he could think of by being talented and hard-working and generous and kind and open. And when that didn’t work he tried being closed and cynical and lazy and dismissive. And when that still didn’t work, he tried them all again. And again. And again.

Strangely, we praised him for this. We called him a great contributor, a brilliant programmer and a gifted writer when he shared. And we called him introspective, quiet and “a geek” when he shut out the world — because this is the cultural idol that we sacrifice to in our nerd chic revolution.

I am more guilty of this than anyone; than everyone really. I saw the road he was heading down on the day he resigned from Red Pill, cutting off a collaboration that had spanned over half a decade and rocketed us both into stardom. I saw it so clearly that I wrote it down and then sent it to all the people from whom I wanted empathy and understanding, but not to the one person who needed it most.

I failed my best friend, because I was scared to be as honest with him as he needed me to be. And on that day when I was too furious and fearful to even say goodbye, I let him drive away in his pin-striped coffin; too stubborn to throw myself on the hood and beg him to stay. Too angry to confess how much he really meant to me. Too frightened of failure to express my fears to the only people that might have helped prevent it.

Weeks and months later, I told myself I’d accepted his choice and that being his friend was the best thing for him. We broke bread together again. We laughed. We shared ideas. We collaborated. And it was brilliant. And he did great work in his new job, even though he admitted that some days he never bothered to climb out of out bed. But it was never the same. In those moments that we opened up our hearts about the things that truly moved us, I never grabbed him and hugged him and pleaded with him to please PLEASE let us find virtue together so that he could discover purpose and joy in his life beyond the facade of being smart and popular.

I didn’t demand virtue from him. I accepted his tale of the introverted and enigmatic geek tragedy, not bothering to look behind his eyes to find the veiled, private hell he was suffering. And when he found that tale couldn’t shape the world into what he wanted, he seized control of the one thing he knew he could shape for himself. He couldn’t control good and evil; he couldn’t control who loved him or why or how; he couldn’t control whether tomorrow he would be treasured like he was today. But he could control whether tomorrow ever came.

And so he did.

So this is the message he has for us all: fight for the people you love. Don’t just accept them. Don’t just let them breeze through their days. If you love them, help them raise their standards not just in words but IN LIFE. Because if you keep accepting someone’s fantasy of virtue, you’re just daring them to keep the story going while ignoring reality.

Tim’s story ended far too soon. I wish I’d acted when I saw that end. I wish I’d been truthful with him. I wish I had given him more time. I wish he had given me more time. I wish I could see my friend again. I wish I’d said goodbye a thousand times.

I wish.

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17 comments on “The Last Word
  1. kalechi says:

    With all the different methods of social interaction there is today, we seem to have less actual human interaction making it harder to really understand what makes us tick. The end result is the loss of people like Tim, I have gone through this with a friend years ago and things he said now stand out as warning signs that I didn’t see.
    Thank you for sharing and sorry for your personal loss.

  2. Roy Rumaner says:

    Thank you Nathan for these words and your eulogy at the memorial. I almost made it through a day without crying over losing my friend and you went and started it all over again. I wish I could add something that would help all of us deal with this great and personal loss a little easier but I am not prone to do that publicly. Instead I offer my love, friendship and shoulder to anyone whenever they need it. The pain of this loss will not go away anytime soon, but as long as the community is there for each other, we will get through it eventually.

  3. thentf says:

    Roy, sorry if I tore off a scab. That was not my intent. I just think the tragedy is all the worse if we miss the last lesson from a great teacher.

    • rrumaner says:

      No worries Nathan. You did not tear off a scab, you reminded me why I have been so down lately. I still find myself wanting to click on Skype and tell him about a piece of code I wrote based on something we talked about (usually from two to three in the morning) just to show him that I really did understand what he was talking about (even though it took over an hour sometimes for us to get around to the original reason for the call). That was one of his best qualities. No matter the time or what he was into, he always found the time to help someone with whatever issue they had. He never seemed to be put out by it or to resent being asked to help. He really was that one of a kind special person.

  4. Tx for sharing Nathan. I have no words.

  5. Fredrik Malmborg says:

    Thank you Nathan for writing down the lesson with so humanity in it. I am really touched by it and I wish that I will take action when I see a person in need. We have it inside us, but damn it can be hard to let it shine thru.

  6. Jesper Kiaer says:

    I am very thankful for your honest and very personal words.

  7. Jason says:

    I don’t know you well enough to say any more but be kind to yourself. Hindsight is 20/20 vision.

  8. Lars Berntrop-Bos says:

    Wow. Thank you for your moving words and lesson. Goosebumps. Thank you for these wise words and I hope I will remember them when needed.

  9. Strong and wise words, Nathan

  10. Thank you for sharing these very moving thoughts. If only.

  11. Tim Malone says:

    Nathan – through all your pain and sorrow, your love for TIm shines brightly. He would have seen that love, felt that warmth and appreciated you for being a true friend.

  12. Debra says:

    Nathan, that was beautiful. I’m in tears 😦

  13. Amanda says:

    Thanks for sharing, Nathan. Check your LinkedIn messages, I shared something with you.

  14. Thanks for sharing this Nathan.

  15. Mark Crosby says:

    Hi Nathan. I too want to thank you for clicking the “Publish” button. I only knew him through is blogs and the podcast he did with Chris a few years ago, but even through those mediums I felt that he was cool guy I would have loved to have hung out and talked to. I was surprised at the sense of loss I had, I don’t want to really try and imagine how it hit you. I will take it as (another) wake up call to appreciate who and what I have in life now.

  16. EricE says:

    Wow Nathan – what a wonderful expression of care for a friend and a powerful reminder to us all about the value of real relationships. Although I haven’t had much to do with Lotus Notes in almost 10 years now, the power of community is an amazing thing – and I miss this community very much from time to time. As others said, thank you for clicking the publish button and giving us a collective kick in the pants.

Take the red pill.

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