Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tribute to Kenneth Noel James Braithwaite (August 1966-November 2007)

Thanksgiving weekend 2007 was not festive for everyone. Case in point: the sudden, unexpected loss of Kenneth Noel James Braithwaite (August 1966-November 2007), earlier in the week, gave a new, darker, meaning to "Black Friday."

Nonetheless, the week's events gave me a new reason to give thanks.

Instead of driving up from the Big Apple on November 23, 2007 (the day after Thanksgiving) to accept Ken's invitation to "hang out" in Beantown, I made the trip for a solemn reason: to attend Ken's Celebration of Life services. The wake and funeral services were held at Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Cambridge; interment was at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett (in a plot shared with his mother, Audrey).

What a contrast to the last times Ken and I had hung out in Massachusetts. On another holiday weekend, he, another Columbia classmate, and I had had a grand time driving there in my two-door coupe. For this planned, November trip, Ken and I had assumed that we would use my four-wheel drive vehicle to access out-of-the-way haunts, and otherwise pahk the cah neah Hahvahd Yahd and take the "T" around town. [I enjoyed teasing Ken about his Massachusetts accent.]

You know what they say about the word "assume." Ken rode not in my green SUV with New York plates or on Boston Mass Transit's Red or Green Line this weekend. Rather, he took his final ride on Friday at noon, in a shiny black hearse with Massachusetts DMV plate number 2025.

I rue not visiting Ken sooner, as he'd suggested. I still hadn't learned my lesson: death never comes at convenient times. Consequently, those in the know prioritize opportunities to spend time with loved ones, and accordingly avoid suffer the consequences I'm currently experiencing.

By George, I think I've finally got it now. The school of hard knocks is quite effective.

So I finally made it to Ken's home in Massachusetts, but for the wrong reason. His bicyles in the hallway, his laptop on the table beside the sofa, his blue jacket draped over the loveseat arm, and his passport and photographs were eerie, material reminders of his accomplishments as an athlete, professional, globetrotter and debonair bachelor. Ken was also a gifted scholar with degrees from Buckingham Browne and Nichols, Tufts College and Columbia University, whose dissertation proposal had recently been approved by his doctoral committee in Organizational Psychology.

Ken's profile was impressive, yes. However, it was the presence, the shared stories, and the tears of those of us who loved him that demonstrated the real measure of the man. Kenneth Noel James Braithwaite was a beloved son, uncle, and friend who will not be forgotten. I am truly thankful for his friendship and for the time we shared.