I was shocked!
I had launched the usual download of e-mail in the morning, One of this..., a few of that, all hidden behind the download progress window. Then a quick check of the subjects, nothing (perhaps) too compelling to halt the rush to work. Ah... Mail from Mutex, so familair - "mutex@GMD.DE", and the so very familiar and friendly name "Werner Icking" appearing in the list.
I quickly checked a few other messages, uneasy now, having noticed that Werner's name was in the Subject column. Strange... Finally I could hesitate no longer...
The rush to work didn't matter any more!
Shock soon gave way to sorrow as a flash of realization passed over me. How much we have lost!
I stared at the German-language Web page, hopelessly trying to find out what it said, Looking for clues about this tragedy, hoping that not seeing "Icking" in the text might mean that this was about something else, someone else, maybe just a misunderstanding. (Werner always had the extra task of translating my English messages, and none of them written very well, even in English, before he had to translate them.) ... One of the Web Robots provided a rough translation of the words. What awful things! The ordering of words on the page, so awkward to my English ears, yet so efficient in thought, and wonderfully German, on this day only heightened the tragic news, and further tempted me to hope that this might not be real after all!
I finally recovered a stark sense of 'the immediate' and returned to face my resonsibilities. Undoubtedly, Werner had stayed late that night (I pondered) to do something for someone, to provide some "hilft" to an anxious inquisitor, making it possible for someone else to go a little farther, faster, better, at whatever might have been the obstacle.
I walked into my West Michigan office, lost in distant thoughts. Germany seemed to have been right next door. GMD might have been across the street. In a way, it really was...
Coworkers met and we started the duties of the day. I felt strangely confined and very much isolated. I would catch myself (but stop), wanting to ask one of these, "Did you hear the awful news about Werner?" only cut short, reminded that they could not know. And I wondered, what does it mean when someone I have never met passes away, and I am so deeply touched... and cannot express it.
I ventured an expression to a few I know well, but the "prelude" necessary to situate their minds toward my grevious message left them polite, and sympathetic, but no less distant from this great loss. And they were no less honest for having listened and sympathized, under the circumstances.
Werner sent the first reply to my first message to the Mutex List, back in 1996. And he was right... I needed to find the line with the extra space at the end. I wonder how many times he has patiently answered that question for all of us. A few years later I had the real pleasure of working with him by E-Mail to find something in the c code of musixflx that really caused him problems. And he made it such a fascinating, international adventure. His expressions of appreciation were a magical fuel to my creative fires, and the humor and personality he confided made us virtually acquainted. Only later did I realize that it was that same "bug" that had caused me to write to the List the very first time, and so it was that much more satisfying. However, working with Werner was more than just solving problems in a bit of c code, or improving one or another of the MusixTex macros. It was about having a friend and helper in a far away place, but who lived (for all practical purposes) right in my living room, always ready for the next problem, and not letting me quit with the problem only half solved! It HAD to be fixed right, because Werner needed it - it was one way to give back some of the "hilft."
I am the only one in my household who communciates with the Mailing List. Yet, my family knows of "Werner Icking." My wife immediately shared the shock and sorrow at hearing of his death. She knew that he was my "friend," and that this was a time to stop, and be truly saddened.
I wondered as I drove home, "What does a mere Internet Mailing List do when a true patriarch dies? How does one interact in sharing this grieving with 'E-mail People'?"
As this evening's message list was accessed from the server, again hidden behind the "Download Dialog," yet counting rapidly up and up, I knew this could only be due to the outpouring of sympathy and condolances that only real people all across the world could express. And in that respect, our small "list community" has become most real in mind and heart, if not in physical proximity! You all, who have made expression, are also 'right here' in my home.
I had always hoped to meet Werner. I imagined that I might some day be traveling in Germany, and happen to find GMD, to 'stop by' and warmly greet this friend. Don said that one should not procrastinate in these things. Would that I could be in California tomorrow! It is for us who remain to reflect and benefit as much as possible from these things.
I will miss Werner's wonderful solutions to hard problems, the encouragement to try harder, and do a better job, to not falter because of the details, and I will remember the model of patience and kindness that he set for us in our various activities on the list. He could close with, "hope this hilft" and I would realize - "Yes! That is it, ... Of course."