The Blink of an Eye

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A few weeks ago, my former boss from Investools (their CEO at the time) introduced me via email to a former colleague of his from Salomon Brothers named Nick. Nick was going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he thought the two of us would hit it off, particularly since Nick was kind of a data god (with particular strength in natural language processing, a fairly hot field right now).

I told Nick to meet me at Coupa Cafe here in Palo Alto at 1:30. I don’t meet people in person that often, but I was looking forward to this, because Nick was very plugged-in to a number of companies at a senior level. In addition, I had never been disappointed meeting someone my former boss had suggested.

We hit it off just great, and I took him for a long walk through downtown Palo Alto, demonstrating the app I’ve been developing. He mentioned knowing the founders of a major firm that might be interested in the product, which was exhilarating for me to hear, since the good things in my life always seem to come about by similar improbable chance.

We spoke about our children some – – his three children were actually traveling with him while his wife remained in Seattle for this trip – – and I mentioned to him my young son’s interest in natural language processing. He encouraged me to introduce the two of them via email so he could offer any assistance, which I thought was terribly generous. It was clear to me Nick was a good businessman, good dad, and a good guy all around.

Later that day, I told my son about Nick, and he emailed him, and they started exchanging emails. At my son’s school, they are required to engage in an ongoing “quest” of their own choosing spanning as long as their entire time at the school, so my son was so relieved to have a mentor of this kind of caliber.

About a week ago, my boy expressed frustration that Nick hadn’t replied. I reminded him that he had pretty poor habits himself with respect to replying punctually, so this would be a way to build empathy (I pride myself in returning emails in, oh, about 7 seconds of their receipt). He sent Nick a polite follow-up email, which also failed to get a reply, and my son started getting a bit irked.

I reminded him that Nick was doing him a favor, and if he didn’t respond this time, to simply drop it, since he was a busy man. “Do you think he died or something?” my boy asked. Since Nick and I were about the same age, I dismissed this nonsense and reminded my kid, once again, that adults have busy lives, and maybe he just wasn’t able to help.

Well, you probably know where this is going. Turns out Nick was killed in an auto accident on Saturday. We found out because Nick’s wife had the (astonishing) courtesy to actually write my son and explain why Nick wasn’t responding (keep in mind, her husband and father of her three children had been killed only days before, and she’s actually taking the time to respond to a child she doesn’t know).

Thus we are reminded once again that each day could be our last, and while the trends of our lives (e.g. persistent living day to day since our birth) are vaguely assumed to persist (e.g. immortality), it all can end in the blink of an eye.