I never met him, but our professional lives intersected constantly. I was called in to rewrite his family comedy screenplays. He was called in to rewrite mine. He was in the meeting just before me, pitching the same project. I got jobs that he wasn’t available for, and vice versa. We worked with the same producers. We had writing credits on the same movie. Mutual friends told me he was a family man, with three kids. Same as me. More than one person said, “He’s your doppelganger!”
Last week, while I was drinking coffee and surfing news sites, I read that he had passed away after battling cancer for three years. His name was Don Rhymer. He was 51.
An untimely, grave illness raises all kinds of huge existential questions, questions he discussed frankly, poignantly, and with great humor, in his blog, “Let’s Radiate Don”. In reading it for the first time last week, I found myself regretting having never reached out to him. We could have talked shop. Laughed about our experiences with the same obtuse executives. He was rewriting my dialogue, and I was rewriting his, so why didn’t I sit down with him and exchange actual words about the trials of remaining relevant in the movie business?
Why? Because I was too busy defining the empty nest in terms of loss. The bedrooms are empty. My parents are declining. My forehand has deserted me. My career is flat-lining. So, why would I want to break bread with “the competition”? What if this guy who was so much like me was winning?
The most recent entry in Don’s blog, written by his wife, Kate, is about the last days of his life. She recounted a message he had written to his family during his last days in the ICU unit. He wrote it because he was too ill to speak. It said, “Focus on the good.”
Had I been living that simple line here in the empty nest, I might have had the pleasure of meeting Don Rhymer.