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Losing a Best Friend

By: Stuart Knight (Founder and CEO) | March 7, 2024




Most people have heard the expression, “getting old sucks”.  While my hips may not be what they used to be, I don’t actually believe this to be true, as I see aging as a natural part of life.  It even comes with its own unique set of perks, such as having dessert whenever you want, affording wine that actually tastes like wine, and being called sir from time to time.  However, one thing that does suck about getting old is watching the people you love pass away.  Yes, there are many beautiful things that transpire from this experience, but until those transcendent moments are felt, it plain old sucks.


That’s the place I find myself as I write these words.  Within the past two days, I lost one of my closest friends and partners in crime, Paul Evans.  A man who showed up on planet earth in a way that if only more of us would, I am convinced the world would be that much of a better place to live.  Allow me to indulge you in the Paul I knew, as I believe it will give you an opportunity to know your own self on a deeper level.  


Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to be someone that good people have wanted to befriend.  This has put me into the envious position of being able to surround myself with individuals that constantly inspire me by the many amazing ways in which they choose to live life.  With that in mind, I’m sure you can imagine that the cream that rises to the top within a friend group of this caliber is pretty special.  Paul Evans was the creme de la creme!


Although you wouldn’t have guessed it upon first meeting him, as he was someone whose gifts did not precede him.  Have you ever found yourself meeting two people in a relationship, and based on outward appearances, the match between the two of them makes no sense?  One is gregarious and charming, while the other is painfully shy.  One is a marathon runner, while the other prefers sitting on the couch reading books.  One votes for Trump, while the other votes for Biden.  I’m sure you’ve met these couples, and thought, “How the hell did this happen”, until you eventually got to know them personally, and you found yourself saying, “Oh, I see it now.”  


That was Paul and I.  Twenty years ago, when we met, our outward appearances couldn’t be more different.  I was into dressing fashionably, while Paul’s sense of style was showing up to the party in a Christmas sweater in the middle of the summer.  I made a living performing on stage, and Paul spent his days alone at a desk working as a bookkeeper.  I would enjoy walking past the line into the city's hottest clubs, while Paul preferred staying home reading books on inner enlightenment.  I was loud.  Paul was not.  On the surface, our friendship made no sense, until you got to know us. 



We first met at the end of a speech I had just delivered at an event that Paul had attended.  He had just moved back to Canada after a long stint in the United States and was looking to meet people.  He waited until the very end, at which point he approached me to ask if I could use any volunteers at the show I was currently producing.  I jokingly responded, “How are you with a broom?” One week later, there was Paul, broom in hand, sweeping the floor after the show.  I took him out for dinner as a thank you, and we laughed about that encounter ever since.  Over that dinner, I was instantly attracted to his “crazy” because it was rare for me to meet someone with the same affinity I had for “throwing myself off a cliff” in the pursuit of greater fulfillment.


At 19, Paul was crazy enough to move to London, England and start working at the Savoy hotel, where he once served Charles and Diana.  At 19, I was crazy enough to forgo my business degree and start a career as a motivational speaker.  In his 20’s Paul was crazy enough to begin owning gas stations in Iowa, while at the same time I was crazy enough to think I could establish the biggest arts festival in Toronto.  In our 30’s Paul began co-producing events that brought speakers to Toronto to discuss enlightenment, while I produced my first ever motivational musical out of a loft I also lived in.  In his 40’s, Paul was crazy enough to start down a path of spending eight hours a day meditating in caves in India, while I was crazy enough to think I could travel the world as a corporate speaker. 

 

And the “crazy” never stopped, all the way to Paul marrying a beautiful Vietnamese woman, and then living in Hanoi, while helping raise two amazing young girls, to me moving my family to New York City for no other reason than to “shake things up”.  We may have looked very different on the outside, but our similarities were endless on the inside.  And while I like to believe I taught Paul a few things along the way, I can assure you that I was the lucky recipient of many life lessons from him.  Allow me a moment of your time to share with you some of the biggest.


  1. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK


No matter what crazy thing we were up to at the time, Paul and I often would say to each other, “How the hell are you pulling this off?”  Even though we were both used to living life on the edge, we still found ourselves wondering how the other person hadn’t gone bankrupt, been abducted by criminals or fallen off an actual cliff.  I remember talking to Paul during his days meditating in India, and he told me that he’s getting by because he found a local hut with two tables where he could eat his one meal a day for less than a dollar.  I’d think to myself, “How have you not died from Cholera yet?”  


However, these creative ways of getting by was just one of the many ways in which we understood each other.  With the example above, eventually his money ran out, so he ventured to Hanoi to teach English, with the intention of getting enough money to go back to continue meditating in India.  During that time, Paul, a guy who was often the quietest in the room, decided to spark up a conversation at a cafe with a beautiful woman who spoke very little English.  That woman eventually became his wife.  There are a million more stories just like this, and in all cases Paul proved to me that no matter how dire the situation looks, we have the strength to turn things around.




2. BE YOURSELF


I remember going back country camping with Paul many years ago. On this occasion we were deep within the interior of a Provincial park, somewhat living off the land.  Myself, and the fellow campers, were decked out in the latest all terrain gear that allowed us to battle the elements, including hiking shoes, quick dry pants and Tilley hats.  On our first morning there, Paul walked out of his tent wearing Hawaiin printed swimming shorts, a button up dress shirt and house slippers.  We’re talking about the fluffy brown house slippers people wore in the 1980’s.  Ha!  It didn’t matter where this man was in the world, he showed up as himself, and didn’t give a flying “F” what other people might think. During that trip, instead of judging Paul, it only made the members of our group adore him that much more.  Moments like these, and many more with Paul taught me that people will always gain greater respect and admiration for those who have the courage to not conform and be true to themselves.


3. KNOW THYSELF


One afternoon, Paul and I were sitting in my loft enjoying one of our countless deep conversations about life.  During that time, I began asking him about the concept of enlightenment, and how a person can experience it.  Instead of telling me the answer, he chose to ask me a question.  He said, “Who are you?”, to which I easily answered, “I am Stuart Knight”.   He then asked, “Who is that?”  I said, “Stuart Knight is a guy who lives in a loft in Toronto, where he produces a weekly musical and is friends with you.”  Paul then asked, “And who is that?”  Again, I gave him an answer that was even more specific than before.  But each time he asked that question, I found it harder and harder to answer.  


I eventually said, “I don’t know who that is”.  At this point, Paul said, “Enlightenment happens when you become one with whoever that is, because that is who you truly are”.  Mic drop!  This moment became the beginning of my ongoing journey of trying to live a life that was aligned with who I truly am, as opposed to who I thought I was.  Paul taught me that who I thought I was can only do so much, but who I really am can do anything.



Now from here, I could continue offering many more life lessons I learned from Paul, but he often told me my blogs were too long, so to honour him I’ll try wrapping this up.  A few months ago, Paul and I were enjoying one of our usual video calls when he told me that he would be moving his family back to Canada at some point in the next year or so.  I was thrilled to know that one of my favourite people on the planet was coming home, and that our families would be beginning a new chapter together.  While it was fun meeting Paul in places like Mumbai, Bangkok, Hanoi, and more, I was looking forward to something a little more consistent. And then while on vacation with his family in Tokyo this past Christmas, Paul began experiencing shortness of breath.  Three months later, I found myself sitting bedside next to Paul in Kingston General Hospital watching him lose his battle to Cancer.  


There came a moment when his wife, brother and myself found ourselves experiencing one of those scenes you see in Hollywood movies where the doctor tells you there is nothing more they can do.  In our case, the oncologist actually got choked up while delivering the news, which was a quick wake up call to face the reality of the situation.  Before long, the time came for me to say goodbye.  Forever.  A moment in life that all the Hollywood movies in the world cannot prepare you for.  I did that typical thing that men often do in these situations, which was to say things like, “You’ve got this brother”, “I’ll come back soon to see you” and “I look forward to getting you guys out to New York”.  But then comes the point where the only thing left to say is, “I love you”.  After hugging his wife and brother I walked out into the hall where I found his five and eight year old daughters talking to the nurses, who had just given them teddy bears and popsicles.  I did my best to make them laugh by tickling them, and then made my way to the private bathroom in the hall, where by myself, I doubled over choking back tears.  I could no longer deny the fact that a part of me would be forever gone, and never to return.  



Within ten minutes, I was in my car driving back to New York, when my phone rang.  It was my partner Marina, and my two children all wanting to talk to me.  As much as I wanted to hear their voices, I was immediately hit with an unexpected feeling of guilt.  I couldn’t help but think of how unfair it was that I got to speak with my family, when one of my best friends didn’t have that same luxury.  I said I’d call them back.  Over the six hour drive home, and through many tears, I began the painful process of coming to terms with the truth.  The guy who was just as crazy as me would soon be gone, and the world would be losing a true maverick who had the guts to do something so few do, which was to follow his heart.  


I will forever feel lucky to have known you Paul, and will do everything I can to align my life with the lessons you have taught me.  I can only hope those reading this will do the same.  We shared tears of laughter, drove around in tuk tuks, stared at the stars and saw the world together.  Somehow we didn’t go bankrupt, get abducted or fall off a cliff.  How crazy is that?


Much love,

Stuart





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I am so sorry for your loss, it's like a piece of you died along with him. Thank you for the lovely homage to a beautiful soul ❤️

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