I believe I mentioned recently that I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. Later this week, I will celebrate the first anniversary of my realization of one of my biggest.
I first met Richard Auwerda about two and a half years ago when I stopped for a gathering of conservative friends at the Wallaby’s restaurant in Ames. I was meeting just about everyone in the room for the first time, but it felt like we were all old chums.
I could tell right away Richard was a guy I needed to get to know better, mainly because we had a lot in common. We both were Christian. We both were veterans. And, we both were pretty much in agreement politically.
From that first, brief encounter developed a strong friendship that was based on mutual understanding and respect. We talked often, via email, occasionally on the phone, but mostly on what has become a primary mode of communication for so many these days: Facebook.
We discussed our shared concerns, our mutual celebrations, and our individual trials and triumphs. It didn’t take long for Richard to enter the very short list of people whom I consider my true friends, or as I like to refer to them, “the people I would figuratively take a bullet for.”
But as the summer of 2011 turned to fall, we both sat back in utter disgust as we watched the infighting that had become the Republican presidential nomination process.
As the backbiting, and the hero worshipping continued to grow, unchecked, we pledged to one another we would never allow that fighting to come between us.
But it did get in the way. Not so much because we engaged in the same petty behavior others around us had been consumed by, but because I was trying to avoid it.
And as difficult as it is to admit, I know I still let the nastiness of the environment interfere with my friendship.
With three months to go before the seemingly all-consuming Iowa Caucus, Richard approached me and said he had finally picked the candidate he was going to “endorse” and support at his caucus. He knew there would be many who would not understand it, and he wanted me to know why he had chosen that candidate.
So, we talked about it.
He had picked someone different than I had, and, although I disagreed a great deal with his final verdict, I knew it came from a principled position and vetting process I could live with. Who the candidates were really isn’t germane to this story.
Had the status quo not changed from that point forward, I probably wouldn’t be writing about Richard in this way today. But, needless to say, it did.
In my work for another friend, I eventually discovered some pretty damaging information — details of which went right to the heart of why Richard was supporting his preferred candidate — that I felt compelled to share with him. So, I did.
And then I asked him to re-think his support for that candidate.
I told him I understood and respected the decision-making process he used to come to his decision. But, I told him an honest assessment of the facts showed the candidate in question really didn’t stand for those same principles Richard held so dearly.
Richard didn’t thank me, nor did he blow his top about it. He just simply said my information and analysis of it wasn’t correct. Then he very politely asked me not to bring it up again.
Out of deepest respect for Richard, who I knew didn’t have the best health, I didn’t bring it up to him ever again. But, I also knew it would be too difficult a task if I tried to just simply “let it go.”
I knew my own weakness — that desire to protect my friends I’ve mentioned before — would not allow me to remain silent for long.
So, I stopped talking to Richard altogether. I stopped responding to emails, stopped taking the phone calls, and even went so far as to “unfriend” him on Facebook.
The plan was to take this extraordinary step only for a few weeks — until the Caucus was over — and then I would go back and apologize.
I was going to explain that his friendship meant so much to me that I didn’t want to throw it away over a loose comment or two that would undoubtedly come out along the way. I hoped he would understand, and knowing the man Richard was, I was pretty sure he just might.
Two things got in the way of that plan: my schedule and Richard’s health.
Immediately following the Caucus, I got wrapped up in a couple of beginning-of-the-year projects for work, and had a couple of out-of-town family visits to take. So, by the time I had a free moment to reach out to Richard, it was a full week later.
That message still hasn’t been answered. The day after I sent my message to Richard, a mutual friend contacted me.
He asked, “Do you know what’s wrong with Richard? I know he’s in the hospital. Is it serious?”
The bottom dropped out of my stomach at that moment.
I began by sending out inquiries to each of our mutual friends, hoping to find some useful bit of information. Then, I went to his Facebook page, hoping for some sliver of information that would tell me the dread in my heart was misplaced.
I would find none of that. But, I did learn what happened.
The same day I had sent my “I’m sorry” message, Richard had been rushed to the local hospital with either congestive heart failure or a lung infection. Folks really weren’t sure at first, and in the end, it really didn’t matter.
Although I added my prayers to those of the hundreds of others who were praying for Richard, I think deep down inside I knew I missed my chance. I had realized my big mistake.
For the next week, there were glimmers of hope, washed down with cold gulps of reality. But, Richard continued to battle for his own life just as vigorously as he had fought for others’ lives most of his adult life.
It was a battle that ended when his Lord called him home.
I have since learned that a mutual friend spoke with him about my message. So, I know he knew what happened.
But it does nothing to lessen the load of shame and regret I still carry today. I wouldn’t wish it on just about anyone.
So, if there’s one thing to be learned from all of this, I hope you learn to not let your passions get the better of you. Don’t let the things you’re fighting for or against so tirelessly pull you down into the depths of hopelessness.
Be better than that.
If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.