A couple of weeks ago, Jim Tompkins died. Jim was the father of my two oldest friends in the world, Mark and Derek Tompkins. I’ve known these guys since preschool. We were inseparable growing up and we’re still friends to this day.

As many of you know firsthand by now, a lot of people come and go from your life over the years. And time has a way of bringing everyone to their knees, at least temporarily. For me, to have two friends like Mark and Derek, friends who have stayed and stood by me through it all (even the really stupid stuff) is to have had a place of shelter and safe harbor during those times of my life when the cold winds have blown their hardest.

May I be their refuge now.

I was with Mark and Derek so often growing up that their father used to refer to me as his “third son.” He would even introduce me that way. Now, I don’t look anything like Jim, nor his two monkey sons, so people were understandably baffled. They would sort of get that it was a joke, but because Jim played it so straight, they didn’t dare assume. No one was ever more whimsically comfortable in other peoples’ discomfort than Jim Tompkins. To this future actor he was a walking Master Class.

I loved it when Pops referred to me as his third son, because even though I knew he was joking, it always felt like a part of him wasn’t. Jim was the first man beyond my father who made me feel like I mattered. He gave me a home outside of my family’s home, made room for me at his table, taught me to swing a golf club and how to keep a straight face. He gave me two best friends (brothers really), and meant it when he called me, “son.” (Albeit, his third son, but let’s not quibble.)

Mark and Derek have entered the Dark Woods of Grief where each must now find his own way through to the next chapter of his life and how fatherlessness will inform the man he is to be there.

We were in touch before they set off. We spoke of their father and I told them both how much I loved them. I then helped them on with their rucksacks, told them what I knew of the terrain ahead and promised to keep a fire until they returned.

May your journey be swift. May your suffering be a gentle teacher.

I got to tell Jim all that I have written here and more about 10 years ago. I first sent him a letter because I didn’t want to embarrass him with a lot of emotional talk. That wasn’t Jim’s way. (I was also chicken.) Later, I paid him a visit, and along with Mark, Jim’s wife, Sharon, Samantha and Luciana (Derek lives in Mexico), we told the old stories and laughed about it all, all over again.

Just for the record: I was the one who smoked pot in the cabana that night and got Jimmy and the boys bard from The Club. But it was Mark’s idea to push his father’s car out of the driveway that other time and take it for an underaged, drunken joy-ride. We were both still in our beds the next morning when Jim burst in and laid into us. “How STUPID could you boys be? That driveway is GRAVEL! Did you really think I wasn’t going to hear you?”

The evening we spoke was the last time I saw Jim. I am so glad I wrote that letter and that we had that talk. Thank you for everything Pops.

All that separates us from death is one breath. The Other Side is literally that close all of the time. The belief that today won’t be the day I exhale for the last time is a delusion that blinds me to the mystery and beauty of this human life and impedes my ability to love all of you as fully as possible.

As my old Zen teacher used to growl in the meditation hall, “This world is on fire. Nothing lasts. Wake up!”

May all beings everywhere awaken together.

Who is it right now that you are thinking of who has touched your life, and to whom, perhaps, you might want to write a letter, call, or visit? Tell me, what are you waiting for?

With love,

Jack