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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

What friends are really for

The full measure of a life is more than the moments that comprised it.

Alex Reyes left, and Michael Dobie during a

Alex Reyes left, and Michael Dobie during a trip to San Francisco in June 2016. Photo Credit: Cathy Dobie

The package arrived in July. Inside was a CD, a newly released recording of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary 1978 concert at the Roxy in Los Angeles.

I was puzzled. I didn’t remember ordering it. There was no message inside. In my confusion, I wondered whether someone somehow had made the purchase to test a stolen credit card. It took a week to untangle, but it never should have been a mystery.

The CD was a gift from my friend Alex, he eventually fessed up. We met in college, at the University of Notre Dame, in 1975. An East Coast kid, I turned the California boy on to the Jersey-born Springsteen.

The CD was a thank-you — for giving him a ticket to a show The Boss played at Notre Dame all those years ago. I remember the night, not the ticket, but Alex never forgot. He went on to introduce many of his friends to Springsteen; that ticket, he said, was the gift that kept on giving.

Those days have been on my mind lately, since I got word last week that Alex had died. The news staggered me. And it left me thinking. How does one measure a life? Is it enough to say we all should have someone like Alex Reyes in our lives?

We remember the best among us with tears and laughter, in roughly equal measure. But it’s not just a collection of moments — and with Alex, there were many moments over our 44 years. What matters is what those moments added up say about a person.

So I think about a hitchhiking trip home from Notre Dame, and a 14-hour overnight wait for a ride at the godforsaken last exit on I-80 in Indiana, and how Alex never left, and I see loyalty.

I think about the summer we lived together after we both left Notre Dame and how he hated the job he found as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman but soldiered on, and about the B.A. he finally earned last year in political science from San Francisco State University, and I see perseverance.

I think about his endless political activism, his prolific writing in blogs, emails and letters-to-editors, his deep yearning for a more just world, and I see passion.

I think about the great conversations, face-to-face and electronic, and the way we could be out of touch for months and then fall right back in when we started talking again, and I see real friendship.

Alex once asked me what I got out of our friendship, a question posed by his therapist. And I told him that it’s hard to put a value on a relationship where nothing is forced or uncomfortable.

So it was tough to hear last year, right around the time he got that college degree, that he had been diagnosed with tongue cancer. Alex had been plagued by a bad back his entire life, and battled a tragicomic litany of injuries and insults because of that. He was a pro at bouncing back. I hoped for more of the same. But this was different.

He had surgery on the tongue, lymph nodes removed, chemo and radiation. In the midst of that, he and his wife, Raquel, came to New York to see Springsteen’s show on Broadway. They wanted to get together. If not, he wrote breezily, “rain check!” But on the night they had free, I was working late in the office. And I regret the checks you never cash.

By December, the cancer had returned. And despite hopes that immunotherapy or targeted injections would work, within two months Alex was gone.

In his last two days, Raquel said, he wasn’t altogether lucid. At one point, he talked about having tickets for “Hamilton,” which they ignored. But when his son checked Alex’s computer later, there they were — two tickets, purchased back in October, for the day before Valentine’s Day.

So a few days after his death, Alex’s wife and his son went to see “Hamilton.”

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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