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Ave Atque Vale: John Spalding

posted Aug 19, 2012, 12:21 AM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: July 3, 2009

It’s difficult to let this holiday weekend go by without recalling that it marks the anniversary of the passing of John Spalding. Unlike most of the other people whose names I drop so casually in this blog, John was not a game industry professional of note; but he was a friend and a gaming buddy, and to top it off, he was also one of the few wholly and unreservedly decent people I have ever known.

His death came as a particular shock to me, because he and I had exchanged emails just a few days before, promising that we would get together later in the month, and that we would think of a game to play on that occasion in the meantime. Our long attempt at The Great War in Europe had just come to an end. We had been playing, two or three Saturday afternoons each month over a period of about seven months, with Jeff Snyder and Steve George at a house belonging to Steve. We would leave the game set up in the kitchen until we could resume, but when Steve needed to reclaim the space suddenly, an armistice of scooped-up counters and folded-up mapsheets ended WWI in early 1917.

And so my last recollections of John come from that game, and it still brings me a smile to remember teaming up with him on the Allied side. When Steve and Jeff wanted a strategy conference, they would send us into the living room while they argued endlessly over who should get the reinforcements for that Strategic Turn, because it was either more important to knock Russia out of the war, or more important to make one more push in the West to capture Paris. They never seemed to realize that sometimes they were loud enough for us to hear them, even with the TV on. When John and I wanted a strategy conference, it was an Alphonse-and-Gaston act, in which I would offer him French and British divisions for the Balkans, or use of a particular strategy chit, and he would demur, saying that the Russians and Serbs would be fine without them.

The more I got to know John, the more I understood that his greatest pleasure in life was helping the people about whom he cared. Too often in this world, generosity is a mask for self-absorption, an expression of guilt or grandiosity or self-righteousness, or a pure abstraction. For him, it was concrete, a way to make whole the people whom he most wanted to see made whole.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the particular effect that his sudden and unfortunate passing had on me. It was the first time that I’d had to bury a friend who was about my age or even younger, and I had figured that it would be another 15-20 years before I had to start dealing with that kind of thing. It was a very potent reminder that the endless promise of a far-off future in which you will finally have the time to do the things that you want to do is an illusion, because it can be taken from you at any time, for any one of a number of reasons. In short: Do not waste the here-and-now, lest you lose tomorrow unexpectedly. In that sense, this blog and my overall renewed focus on gaming and writing — indeed, the fact that I finally got my act together and attended ConsimWorld Expo for the first time this year — owe their existence to the psychic shock of John’s death.

I’d much rather have him still around. But if there is any consolation to be had from this sorrowful and unchangeable reality, that is it. And I like to think that John, who had such an abiding love of the people around him, would approve.

Hail, brother, and farewell; but we have not forgotten you.