On January 28, 2013, my friend, Travers Naran, died of complications from cancer.
Travers was a great, sweet lump of a man. Tall, dark, and by no means a small man, he was both one of the most physically imposing people I knew, and one of the gentlest. His default emotional mode was a cheerful fatalism that, combined with a wry sense of humor, made him a neat guy to know. He was plenty smart, happily took up the hacker's mantle, soldiered through a Computing Science degree at SFU (where our paths crossed again; he was two years older than me, and less of a slacker, so I knew him in high school and university, but our friendship was tempered by that age difference at a time of life when two years can split two people into very different natural social groups. And thanks to my slow progress from high school to university, he was leaving SFU within a year or so of my arrival). Nonetheless, he was one of those guys who, in both high school and after, I had many a long phone conversation with, just because we both loved to talk, and about the same wonderfully nerdy subjects. Oh how we were going to change the world when we grew up (and in retrospect, if we didn't personally change the world, our basic guess was right: nerds rather like us changed the world again and again over the intervening years).
Through the magic of electronic communication, we stayed in contact even after we didn't call so often, and it was grand. Travers went on to get into the exciting world of creating video games, only to be shunted into the less exciting world of development tool construction, the team that does thing like write audio subsystems that let the sound guys add sound to each game.
After a while, he threw that over for similarly exciting but more remunerative work in geographical information systems, and I think genuinely enjoying his ability to contribute, in very clever and valuable ways, to the projects he was working on. He had a perceptive mind, superbly suited to programming, and I think he did his job well, all the while marvelling at the management structures that surrounded him. It would be easy to dismiss his as unglamorous work, but I think unglamorous work gets a very short shrift in the world, and there is an awful lot of value tucked away in organizations that consists of solemnly overqualified nerds just getting on with the project of making their little part of the world suck less, in as many ways as they can. Hell, I'd call that my aspiration.
We didn't speak too much about it, but he was broadly unlucky in love. A morose, lumpy big nerd is nobody's idea of a natural ladies' man, but he never carried around any notable bitterness about it. I'm telling you ladies, you missed out.
In his hobbies, his nerdy, clever mind continued to assert itself. He took up robotics (his blog on the subject was the excellently named Gentle Maker), and was working on a self-balancing Segway-style robot, and an autonomous Arduino-powered little tracked vehicle. He was thus playing with technology and programming right until the end, because why not?
The last time I saw him was just about two weeks ago, and I suspect he was more aware of his imminent death at that time than I was. We went to The Red Wagon (his request) a charming hipster diner in East Van that serves fantastic food. We ate well, and after, I took him over to The Commissary to have some Cartem's donuts, which he had not tried before, and liked very much. We spoke not at all about his illness. Instead, we talked of nerdy things, and probably mentioned "neo-retro revivalism," a coinage of mine he latched onto with great love.
He was raised Anglican, and he found that faith again after his diagnosis, and I think it gave him great comfort (especially in the form of a few wonderful people from the church who talked to him in some pretty dark post-diagnosis hours), and one can hope, salvation.
There is no grand lesson here except for the only lesson: remember that you will die. Live accordingly. In his own way, Travers did.