Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Goodbye to a Friend
Today is the Memorial Service for our friend Ambassador Chris Stevens. It is open to the public and I'm sure there will be thousands of people there. The service takes place at 4:30 this afternoon in the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall, which is a perfect place for this ceremony. It is a gorgeous building both formal and open at the same time, very much like Chris.
I know there will be at least four speakers and one of them is my husband Steve. He has been working on his speech for days, trying to get it short enough to fit into the allotted time. It is difficult to capture the essence of a 35 year friendship in a five minute speech. Steve is extremely honored to be asked by Chris' family to speak, but he is understandably nervous about making it through the speech in one piece.
I know WHAT Steve will say, I just don't know HOW he will do it. Forget the number of people present, including various dignitaries, that's nothing; it's the emotion. Despite all the international consequences and the unfortunate attempts at politicizing this tragic event, for us it's personal. Steve lost a very dear friend in the most horrific manner and he is extremely sad. Talking about it is very difficult for him.
Chris Stevens was my friend too, if only through my connection to Steve. He was a wonderful, wonderful man who was thoughtful and kind, friendly and easy going, brilliant and down to earth. He came here for dinner whenever he was in the Bay Area and we always spent hours eating, drinking and talking - catching up on the months that had passed since our last dinner.
I've read so many things about Chris since the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi 36 days ago. All of what I read was positive and absolutely none of it surprised me. Of all the quips and stories and memories shared, one thing really stands out. A woman who knew him (and I don't remember the connection now) said, "whenever we spoke, about 90% of the conversation was about me."
I nodded as I read that because it was true for me too. Chris would ask about Maggie and how the school system worked, marveled at her ability to use her communication device and her ability to overcome her medical challenges. He'd ask about how it was to manage her care and whether I missed practicing law. He asked about the boys and their lives. He asked about Steve's work and friends we had in common. There was reminiscing and laughing at the same old jokes just as all of us do with old friends.
We would hear about his family, last year of his sister's wedding and his brother's sweet little girls. We spoke of the law and law school though it was ancient history for all of us. We would talk politics in a very general way, never anything revealing in any way, but I never felt that he was hiding anything either. He would tell us about his current post, but mostly about the way they lived, never anything about the danger or the diplomacy itself. I never really realized that until after he died because it was done so effortlessly. He was a natural diplomat and when you finished an evening with Chris, you felt like all was right in the world, He made us feel good about ourselves.
I knew more cities in the Middle East than most people because Chris had lived in nearly all of them. (I wait for a "capitals of the Middle East" category on Jeopardy.) Chis loved the Middle East and loved the people. His stories were about cab drivers and people in cafes, not Presidents and politicians.
Of course we knew his work was dangerous - or at least that it took place in a dangerous part of the world, but that was never really discussed. It was just understood. We were naive and happy to remain so. I would always tell him to be careful because I knew the possibilities, but I never in a million years really believed anything would happen to him. It just couldn't.
But it did.
And now he's gone and we have to say a formal goodbye today, which will be a difficult thing to do. I am so proud that my husband is able to get up and tell the world about his friend Chris Stevens. Because there is much to tell. And much to miss.
Steve and Chris 1980 Steve, me and Chris, 1990
Chris and Steve 2011