Yesterday, during a hectic work day, working like a demon to finish something essential within a very tight time frame, I received a call that I had a visitor waiting to see me in the Department Office.
I wasn't happy.
Didn't the whole world know I was on a deadline? And freaking out? And feeling very self-important?
I impatiently saved my work in Word and flew downstairs, thinking I could get rid of my visitor and get back to my essential tasks at hand.
When I got down to the office, my friend Togo was there. After bowing, he took my hand.
He said, "I want to tell you that I am leaving town. I want to say good-bye."
My eyes teared up....but first a little back story.
Togo is a retired mathematics professor from the University of Chicago, perhaps in his late 70s, who moved to town 16 years ago with his much younger wife so that she could teach here at the College.
And 16 years ago, in his frequent wanderings around town, he found and bought a small Raku vase I was selling in a local Arts Collective. From that point on he became a secret patron.
He bought many pieces from the Collective, and when I was no longer selling ceramic work there, Togo learned I occasionally had Open Studio weekends, and managed to find the studio one sunday afternoon.
He introduced himself humbly, bowing slightly, smiling. Soft-spoken, he explained that he had been collecting my work for several years, and was looking for a tea bowl.
As excited as I was to be meeting Togo, who I had seen around town, always walking stoically in all sorts of weather, I was suddenly hit with a wave of intense insecurity, and my only thought was, "My tea bowls are not worthy of your hands!"
I was thoroughly intimidated.
I barely knew this man, and yet I felt a mysterious connection and sense of humility around him, as if he was my teacher, and I'm not talking about mathematics....I flunked math! I also sensed that he was completely aware of this connection and it was nothing special to him, as if to say, "Of course I'm your teacher but let's forget about all that."
Eventually, after careful consideration, Togo chose a tea bowl. A very crusty, wobbly, wabi-sabi sort of bowl, something most people never gave a second glance. His choice intrigued me. It was one of my favorite bowls.
I wrapped it up, thanked him, watched out the Studio window as he walked home. I recall it was raining, but he still walked slowly, methodically.
Over the years, he sometimes came to find me, to purchase another tea bowl. He often bought them as gifts and told me where the tea bowl was headed, extending our connection into other hands, other geographical directions, and this always delighted me.
Because we were both very shy around one another, I did not learn much personal information, beyond his former work in Chicago, what his wife did, what his 5 children did and where they lived, and even then, the information was offered simply as a formality.
It seemed our relationship existed as artist to patron, student to teacher, but what was he teaching and what was I learning?
His faith in what I created was a source of wonder for me!
His choices were never predictable, never conventional. As time went on, his visits were exciting simply because I couldn't wait to see what he would select.
So yesterday, when Togo came to visit, he explained that he just wanted to let me know that he and his wife were leaving for a retirement community outside of Philadelphia.
He bowed slightly, but I wasn't going to let him go. It was clear he was ready to go, and had said exactly what he wanted to say, just "Good-Bye", but I needed more!
I asked him questions; I reminded him of when we had first met, I suggested a beautiful arboretum where he might go walking outside of the City....I was practically tugging on to his coat sleeve.
I know Togo said good-bye several times, each time making sure I heard him....
"So I am saying Good-Bye."
Of course I had to let him go, it was getting silly.
Later, I reflected on how rare and wonderful it was, to receive the gift of someone I barely knew coming to find me to say farewell.
I felt honored. There's really no other word.
Each time he bought a tea bowl, I felt honored.
His friendship was an honor, and yesterday his good-bye told me that the honor had been mutual, worthy of acknowledgment.