You know how it goes. You lose track of friends and then one day, someone gets in touch to say the friend has left us to our mortal pursuits.
Two such messages came recently within the span of a few days.
The first was an email from a stranger who knew I had been friends with John Vasconcellos, the California legislator who was a weaver of big dreams and a lampoon target of Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury.”
In many cases, his dreams became reality and are accepted wisdom and practice today. He is probably best known for his creation of a commission to study the importance of self-esteem in childhood development. Always a few steps ahead of the Zeitgeist, Vasconcellos, who was 82, was first to pose questions others hadn’t thought to ask.
I got to know John while working in California for the San Jose Mercury News in the 1980s. We met when I interviewed him for a story, but we became friends in the most curious way — by telephone from our respective hospital rooms. Both confined -- he for a heart attack, I was on bed rest pending childbirth — we found solace and humor in each other’s company. Like the two prisoners in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” we were tap-tap-tapping to see if anyone else was there. Speaking daily at length, we laughed at our mutual predicament and delved deeply into subjects both philosophical and mundane.
Eventually, we left our institutionalized lives and got busy again. Even in retirement, John continued to seek ways to make life better for the people he served. He was “wacky” in the way we all should be wacky, wearing his tender heart on sleeves that were always rolled up.
The second message came from an old friend from an earlier era, those halcyon days of graduate school when everyone was young and everything seemed possible. I detected dried tears on the other end and perhaps, too, evidence of a wake already begun.