I often wonder how friendships are born. I think about this a lot, actually. Are they part of a greater story, characters who were always meant to be together? Or is it a matter of "right place at the right time?" Are friendships like seeds planted in the soil of our lives, and they grow when the environmental conditions are right? How much of it is in our control? How much of it is predestined, how much of it is happenstance?
I think about this a lot.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to an author event with a dozen other people - a closed banquet with assigned seats, one of my favorite parts of my job. A part of my job that feels more like perk than work. Thanks to the master plan of a seating chart and an intentional host, I was seated next to Dianne Derby, an Emmy award-winning journalist and news anchor. She's one of the faces and voices of the nightly news in Colorado, one of the people whom we invite into our living rooms each evening to tell us what has happened in our world, for better and for worse. Dianne is a storyteller, and - newsflash - so am I.
Something magical happened at that lunch. The two of us - perhaps rudely, in retrospect - turned away from everyone else at the table and fell into instant friendship. We went deep, fast. She told me about her mentor, Jim Downing, whom she met when she was covering a news story about the surviving veterans of Pearl Harbor.
Jim was the postmaster on the U. S. S. West Virginia, and he was on Battleship Row on the day that the Japanese planes zigzagged the sky, diving at the harbor. There was devastation and horror all around. His ship was sinking and on fire. Oil had spilled from the damaging holes in the ships, and even the water was on fire. The men who had jumped or been thrown from their vessels were burning alive. Jim knew immediately that many of his friends were already dead. He saw one body after another, crewmen lying on the deck. Men with stories, with families and friends. Jim walked down the deck, spraying water toward the flames, and memorized the faces of his comrades. When he could not identify their faces because of the burns, he searched for their dog tags, determined to recall each one.
In a moment when Jim could have defended himself, when all evidence appeared he was moments away from his own death, Jim Downing focused all his efforts to save the ship but also to honor each individual who had just given their lives. In the weeks to follow, he wrote letters to each of the veterans' families, telling them how valiantly their soldier had fought to the very end. Jim Downing was the embodiment of integrity, honor, and kindness. She was drawn to him immediately. They went deep, fast. On the day he met Dianne, he was 97 years old, seemingly at the end of a long and beautiful life… but he had a whole lot more to give. Jim invited her to have lunch with him the following Tuesday. The two of them had lunch together every Tuesday for the next five years, until the last Tuesday of his life.
For more than two hundred Tuesdays.
I have had the honored privilege of writing the memoir of their friendship, a gorgeous book that releases this week. Two Hundred Tuesdays: What a Pearl Harbor Survivor Taught me about Life, Love, and Faith.
Together, we are doing a book signing and author Q & A on Saturday, May 14, at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs. The doors are open to one and all, so come on by. Meet Dianne Derby, the face of KOAA news, and her co-author, T. L. Heyer.
We're bringing our Sharpies.
So, sometimes I wonder how friendships are born, and sometimes I wonder when. But at least this time, in this collaboration with Dianne, I have a strong theory. She and I each lost somebody we love, and those two men have conspired somewhere beyond us to bring our lives together. Call it magic, call it divine, call it woo-woo or whatever you want. I'm just saying, this time, it's what happened.
May 21, 2022
Glen Eyrie Carriage House
To order your copy of Two Hundred Tuesdays: Click Here.
P. S. Sometimes when I ghostwrite a book, I am indeed the ghost of the project, with my name nowhere to be found. It's okay with me, truly. That's how it goes. But Dianne has been so gracious to share her story with me, and also her book. Dianne has said from the beginning that this is ours, and she put my name right on the cover. She has given me a new nickname: "T. L."