Rachael and I spent last week down in St. Petersburg, Florida on a little getaway. It’s amazing what a little sunshine and warmth will do to lift your spirits. We flew Allegiant out of the regional airport in Allentown and found the travel part of the trip to be remarkably stress-free. We came back rejuvenated and plan to use the Lehigh Valley Airport for what we hope to be many future trips down to Florida—it’s a whole heck of a lot less hassle than flying out of Philadelphia.
While away, I spent a lot of time thinking about my good friend Peter Noll, who passed away a year ago last March after a courageous three-year battle with blood cancer. He was a month shy of turning 72.
We can consider ourselves blessed in this life if we have a half a dozen people whom we can call really good friends. This is especially the case for men, who generally have a lot fewer good friends than women.
For me, Peter was one of those really good friends. I met him some thirty years ago at the company where we worked together. He was eleven years older than me and because of that age difference, he became, over time, not just a friend, but also a mentor, spiritual guide, and confidant. He helped me through all kinds of tough stuff in my life—divorce, cancer, job loss—and he did it always with the same calm, optimistic spirit that bubbled up from his deep Christian faith.
Peter believed, fervently, that this world was a temporary home, one that brings lots of grief and sadness our way. There was another home, what Peter called his “heavenly home,” where there would be no troubles, no sadness, no grief. If we are believers, we do our walk through the troubles of this earthly home in faith that one day we will share in the joys of that heavenly home.
Peter also believed that because this world was so broken, so much in need, we need to do our part while here to help those less fortunate. Every year, he would give up some of his vacation time to go on mission trips with the Christian relief group Samaritan’s Purse to help rebuild houses damaged by tornadoes and hurricanes. He made those trips a priority in his life. He and his wife Mary were both handy with the hammer and power tools, and they believed it was important to give back of the gifts of which they were given.
All of this is not to say that Peter did not enjoy the things of this earth. He loved to travel, golf, and get together with friends. He and I also shared a common love of hunting and the outdoors. He particularly enjoyed going up to my fifty-acre mountain property in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania to walk the fields and woods in search of pheasants, turkey and deer. We never got much game, to be honest, but we were outside and that was what mattered. Being outdoors was release and salve for the soul after long, stressful weeks at the office.
As we walked, we would talk about our jobs. Our families. Our children. Problems and challenges we were facing in our lives. We would also dream. One of our shared dreams was to build a cabin on that mountain property up north so that we would have a place to stay and not have to make that two-hour drive each way. I’d bought the property in 2003 with the intention of building a cabin right away, but those plans were waylaid by my divorce and the obligations of alimony and child support. But Peter always encouraged me never to give up on the dream. We made visits together to builders, reviewed house plans and specs, talked through ways that we could finally make it happen.
When, in late 2018, with my kids out of college, I finally decided to take the plunge on the cabin, Peter was there to see it through. He, Mary and their son Chris grabbed their hammers and power tools and spent an entire weekend helping me build the deck that overlooks the south knob of Elk Mountain. It was a happy day.
But like life itself, the day was also tinged with sadness, because several months earlier, Peter had discovered he had a rare form of blood cancer called multiple myeloma that has no cure. So began three grueling years of blood transfusions and hospital stays that eventually put an end to Peter’s ability to travel for mission trips. He gave a brave last-ditch try at a risky bone marrow transplant, but it failed.
The last six months or so were particularly hard for him. But always, to the end, Peter was his usual cheerful self. When I spoke with him the last time by phone from his hospital bed at the University of Pennsylvania, he told me he was ready—emotionally, spiritually and intellectually—to go to his heavenly home. Still, he said, he hoped to make one last trip to the mountain house, for old times’ sake. We would have a few beers, sit out on the deck, watch the deer come out from the woods.
Alas, that last visit never happened. A few days later, he had a massive stroke and passed away a few hours later.
I’ll never forget one of my last conversations with Peter. I told him that I had lost some of my enthusiasm for the mountain house because of everything that was going on with him.
“You’ll get it back,” he told me. “You will go on.”
He was right. I have gone on. But I’m different. My friendship with Peter has changed me, awakened me to my own obligation to my fellow man. I can’t just go on; I have to give back. I have to use my own gifts to be of service.
My greatest gift is my writing, so that’s where I’m starting. In memory of Peter, I’ve committed to give all of my author’s earnings this year from The Long Walk Home to Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that he loved. It may not add up to much, but every little bit counts.
Thank you, Peter, for all you did for me and for others on this earth. I can feel your spirit whenever I’m up at the cabin and know you continue to walk alongside me.