Bruce and I met when he was in his late 50s, and I was a 17 year old school girl. He was a worldly musician, I was dreaming of serving God in youth ministry. How did we become friends? Well, because we chose to and we lived better for it. He wasn’t a Christian, although we talked about spirituality and philosophy endlessly. He never held my faith against me, in fact – as the years went on, he seemed more intrigued by it.

I thought he was intelligent enough to ask questions if he wanted, and I was intelligent enough not to give answers where they were unnecessary. We talked about people, sexuality, growing up, learning from your mistakes, trying to find your way in life and we talked of writing. We always talked of writing.

Bruce was a rabid letter-writer, to almost every newspaper and magazine in town that he deemed worthy of receiving his opinion. The week of his death, he was published in the Letters to the Editor section of the NZ Listener, a surprise treat to discover just days after his passing.

It was a year ago that I was deeply saddened to hear the news that my dear friend had passed away. His battle with cancer had robbed the world of a brighter light than some will ever be lucky enough to know.

I was in the United States when I got the news, as I was last week as this anniversary rolled around. It was Thanksgiving Eve, which means a number of things. The day centres on family and friends, of whom I was grateful for their company. It involves the breaking of bread and drinking of wine with those we love, or who love us enough to make us welcome in their homes.

For the last 4 years, I’ve made the trek to the United States to share in this Thanksgiving ritual, adopting it as my own pilgrimage to visit those I love on the other side of the world.

It’s true, that Thanksgiving opens the Christmas shopping season, a reliable economic indication for a nation of shoppers and bargain hunters, retailers and financial wizards.

It’s true, that it’s easy to give the history of America a kinder eye during the Thanksgiving season, brought on by tales of fellowship, comradery and loving kindness. It’s easy to imagine that we are the kind of people who share what we have, welcome the unwelcome, love the unloved, feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

It’s true, that politicians, tv personalities and radio hosts take Thanksgiving goodwill and easy feel-good moments to the bank, making for cliché-ridden, overwrought television programming and infotainment.

But it’s also true that Thanksgiving comprises some of the very best of what America has to offer the world, and that is where it seemed appropriate to farewell my friend Bruce, because these are the very same qualities I found in him.

  1. Be Aspirational. Never assume that where you are or who you are is definitive. Aspire to greatness or at least to greater-ness than your current normative. Never give up and do whatever you can to get there.
  2. Be Inspirational. Surround yourself with the stories that puff up your heart, your spirit and your soul. These are the comforting “if they can do it, I can too” stories that will warm you in the cold, dark night of the soul and remind you that the greatness within you – be it arts, music, dance, engineering or otherwise. Share those stories liberally, regaling others with inspiration also.
  3. Be Positive. “When the show must go on, somebody better be prepared to play, and that somebody should be me!”. That’s a Bruceism, for sure. But Thanksgiving is all about being positive.
  4. Be Hospitable. Thanksgiving is about feasting with your friends, even in the midst of a Famine. No one was more welcoming in the world than Bruce. He invited you into the heart of whatever he was doing in whatever moment. Ruthlessly generous with his time, knowledge, opinions and stories – if you wanted to be in it, Bruce would welcome you with open arms, even if it was just to play enthusiastic audience member for one of his tales. Hospitality – to welcome someone into your space until they feel it is their own – Tashism.

Thanks Bruce. This Thanksgiving, I was thankful for you and ever will be in awe of your aspirations, your inspiring courage, your ability to look on the bright side and to take me there with you.

Mostly, I am thankful that you were my teacher, my friend and my co-conspirator. It was you who taught me never to hold my values or my faith in front of my eyes, in case I missed the person who was standing in front of me. And it gave me great pleasure to see you, all of you, and love you entirely. It’s a year on and I still miss you like crazy.