One Breath Away

Living Lessons with Duke Tirschel

I couldn’t see why anyone would visit someone who was at home sick in bed. They need their rest, the peace and the quiet. And, I’ve never been one to visit people in hospitals either. But Bobby Burbidge was getting quite a few visitors from all our karate friends, and so I didn’t want to be left out. I liked Bobby and I didn’t want my views, about visiting people who were sick in bed, to be misinterpreted. Bobby was a scraper, a lightweight but tough as nails. When we would weigh in at karate tournaments Bobby would load his gi top with ankle weights so he would weigh in heavy enough for the heavyweight division. He liked the challenge, and of course, with his natural speed he was fast, but fighting the heavy weights, he was lightning fast. John Natividad, Howard Jackson, Rick Prieto, Roger LaCombe and dozens of other fighters filled his room. I walked up to the edge of his bed and with a big stupid grin on my face, I asked, “So, how much longer are you going to have to be in the hospital?

He didn’t show any weakness that I could see. I didn’t pick up on why the others stopped talking and looked at Bobby. But Bobby stared at me, a surprised expression on his face as he paused to see if I was trying to be funny. When he saw I was serious he didn’t say a word, he just smiled and shrugged and went into telling one of the many karate sea stories we all were passing around about the days we were competing in the ring.

The others pulled me aside and told me the seriousness of his condition. But I thought surely they don’t know what I know. I couldn’t bring myself to believe Bobby was going to die. He looked too brave, too happy. But everybody still said Bobby was dying, and he knew he was dying, and he just chose to smile through it all.

A small time passed since that visit and I was anxious to see Bobby again. I actually felt guilty for allowing lesser things to steal me away and not be in to see him sooner. When I got back to the hospital I was anxious and I was glad I put the other trivial things aside and came tonight. But, I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I turned the corner into his room, smiling like mad, and saw an empty bed. Immediately I felt how quiet it was in the hospital and noticed for the first time that hardly anyone else who worked in the hospital was around. Maybe my senses were numb. I felt I wasn’t a part of what I was doing. I was no longer a part of this world. Everything moved in slow motion as I walked up to the desk, confused, and softly said his name, “Bobby?”

One Breath Away

And immediately the world snapped back to normal as the smiling nurse said, “Oh, Bobby? He went home yesterday.”

I knew it. I knew he wasn’t going to die, not Bobby.

I dismissed my worrying about Bobby. And I thought I’d give him some breathing room and let him enjoy his family in peace as he was getting back to normal. I breathed freely and bounced down the steps just as happy as I could be. I imagined I had some part in Bobby’s miraculous recovery and now, felt as though my job was over. I wanted to be there for him, and I was, when it was needed but, crisis over, I’ll get back to work.

A couple weeks later I was shocked with the news that Booby had died. I thought his discharge from the hospital was a sure sign that everyone else was wrong and he was going to make it. I didn’t realize he left the hospital because he chose to die at home.

We had a memorial in a karate studio in Tarzana. We all shared our memories of Bobby, the beach boy with his long hair and perpetual tan. He was the perfect surfer dude. Add to that his love for music and playing the guitar and writing songs. He was definitely the poster child for California surfing. The memory I’ll always have of Bobby was that he had courage and he had dignity and he lived his last days on earth as if he didn’t have a care in the world. And he didn’t, because Bobby knew Christ. He knew where he was heading and on the day that we had his memorial, they played a short film of his life. At the end of the film Bobby sang a song that he wrote as his last message to us. The theme of the song was, “I’m not going to be far from you… I’ll always be just one breath away.

” That one last breath being the threshold we cross that separates us from those we love. He was saying – he will always be that near to us… because a breath isn’t far at all. I also think it was his way of telling us, we’ll be together again, when it’s our turn to take that one breath away.