Tuesday, April 12, 2016

In a Previous Life …

Marco and I go way back. We met as freshmen chemical engineering students at the University of Maine in 1982 and have been close ever since. I worked hard and earned top grades over those four years. Marco worked harder and got even higher grades. Later, we were both employed as engineers at Lincoln Pulp and Paper. I put in long hours, and my career progressed. Marco put in longer hours, and he became the mill manager. Today, he is a VP at an international paper company, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

Marco and I see each other infrequently these days. But we recently met for breakfast at Q Street Diner, a throwback, greasy spoon diner maybe 300 yards from my house.

The conversation could have gone in either of two directions. We might have reminisced about all the fun we had in our 20s and 30s snowmobiling or hanging out with our friends in Lincoln. But on this day, the discussion bent toward business, something he’s still involved in and I’m not.

Marco is overseeing the expansion of a mill in Woodland, Maine – an investment of well over $100 million. He is one of the most knowledgeable pulp and paper minds around. Me? Although I lived that industry for 13 years, I hadn’t had an opportunity to talk pulp and paper much since I left the Lincoln mill 16 years ago. Over breakfast we began to discuss the basics of his project and his new position. I proceeded cautiously at first, unsure of my ability to carry on an in-depth conversation on these subjects. Then the strangest thing happened. A part of my brain that had been ignored for so long suddenly awoke. Neurons that had lain dormant for years began to fire, feeding me tidbits of information I would never have imagined I still possessed.

I asked probing questions and used technical jargon. It all came rushing back, and I was thrilled with my powers of recall.

“This is fun. I haven’t talked pulp and paper in so long,” I said.

“You’re doing a pretty good job of it,” he replied.

What a satisfying breakfast. To top things off, Marco picked up the tab.

In a previous life, I defined myself in large part by the work I performed. Because of MS, that identity is gone. But I don’t lament the loss. What good would that do? I still have a meaningful life, and I’m determined to make the most of it.


  1. you are blessed to have a life you find meaning in, and be able to discover those connections to your past self. and to have a buddy who picks up the tab!

    1. Stephen, you are so right! Despite the MS thing, I have led a charmed life. (No, I'm not being sarcastic)

  2. Pulp and paper is stinky, no?

    1. the pulp part is the stinky part. Some mills just purchase pulp and make paper, and they don't stink very much. But the mills that take trees and turn them into pulp – very stinky.