Sunday morning, I lost one of the better friends I’ve had in my life. Craig Zeller, or "Fuzzy" as he was more commonly known, was undoubtedly one of the funniest people I ever knew! I first knew him as one of my teachers in high school, but we forged a friendship that went beyond the teacher-student relationship. Ironically, Fuzzy the friend taught me much more than Fuzzy the teacher. When I was his student, he acted more like one my buddies that I hung out with.
ONE OF THE GUYS
In high school, my friends and I created a fantasy basketball league which carried us all through graduation. Of course, it wasn’t called "fantasy" basketball and we didn’t play "online" because there was no internet. We were obsessed with our game to the point where we were distracted by it and our school work suffered. (well, at least mine did) Our school administrator soon got wind of our league and told us we needed to refocus on our education (as well he should). Fuzzy was also the asst. administrator at the time and when we had a couple kids drop out of the "Arlington Basketball League", he joined our league. Each week he turned in his starting lineup and joined in all the "trash talk" between team owners. He was as much into in as we were even though he was a little older. I soon became friends with Fuzzy beyond basketball. He was someone I would go see after I graduated from high school, sometimes at his office and even his house a couple times. After a few years, I lost contact with Fuzzy. I don’t know why. We lived in the same town. I guess it was like many relationships, unintentionally parting ways through times of marriage, kids, career, and new relationships.
Of course, we crossed paths in between and we instantly picked up where we left off! When I saw him, I did what I could to make him laugh, because his cartoonish chuckle was so infectious and fun to hear. For instance, I always did impressions of people (still do) and try to get him to crack up, which he did. One, in particular, was one of the other teachers at TCA. I was known as the kid who always carried a newspaper, specifically the sports section. This teacher would always mooch the paper from me, browse through it, and return it to me a few hours later (sometimes not). He would always ask me each morning in a kind of throaty voice "Hey Wren! Where’s the sports page"? If I didn’t have it that morning or more likely lie and say I didn’t, he would reply "That’s garbage, Wren"! He did it with such regularity that I began to impersonate him. I had the impression down to a tee. I began to do it whenever I would see Fuzzy, "Hey Wren! Where’s the sports page."? Then Fuzzy would reply, "that’s garbage, Wren!", and then the laugh! Fuzzy’s laugh was similar to an old cartoon character I remember. There was a cartoon called "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop" where 7 little dwarf-like gangsters in pin striped suits and fedoras tried to rescue a Snow-white like character named Penelope Pitstop. One of the little mobsters use to laugh while saying something like "Penelope’s gonna die". I use to impersonate that as well. Fuzzy laughed just like that cartoon character, but it was his real laugh, and the reason I tried so hard to humor him!
Later, Fuzzy left teaching and was working for a printing company. Meanwhile, I was working at an office supply company. Come to find out, our company would sub-contract print jobs to the company Fuzzy worked for. It wasn’t long before Fuzzy and I crossed paths again, if only for a short while. He would make deliveries to my company and he soon found out where my desk was. I’d be working and then hear this impish voice creeping up behind my cubicle. "Hey Wren, where’s the sports page?" I’d turn around in delight and reply "that’s garbage!" Together we would laugh hysterically! He then would say, "Hey are you doing anything? Come on, I’ll buy you a coke!" I’d always try to refuse his offer, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. So, I would agree to let him buy it. We would grab a coke and sit down in the company break room and just talk and laugh. I don’t ever remember any of our topics of conversation carrying any weight of worldwide importance, but it didn’t really matter. He was what a friend is supposed to be.
After being laid off from that company, I lost contact again with Fuzzy. I don’t know why. I now look back at the last 8 years with the deepest regret I’ve ever experienced. When I found out that Fuzzy had cancer, I was stunned! This was as close to home as ever for me personally. For some reason, I didn’t call, write, or even visit him. I can’t explain why nor would I even try to rationalize it. I even remember seeing his wife, Pam at the church building where they attended after he had gone through some treatments. I remember asking her about him. I never once saw him or contacted him since his diagnosis. Granted, he did move to East Texas which added some distance, but that doesn’t make for an excuse. I did try to visit him when he came back to town to have some treatment in an Irving hospital. I drove out to the hospital and was told that there wasn’t anyone there by that name. I made a few phone calls and found out that I had missed him. He had his treatment and went back home. That was a couple years ago. I had no idea that that was as close as I would get to seeing him.
Still, in spite of my failings, I had one last chance. I received an email on April 5th that the doctors ceased treatments because there was nothing more that could be done as his cancer was spread to his bones. The email even provided an address where I could mail a letter. My mind immediately raced through all the things I could say in written form. Then I thought, forget the letter. I’ll record a CD of my voice and fill it with impressions and funny jokes. That would be so much better than a letter! Maybe, he might even call me when he listened to it, if he was feeling well enough. But alas, I didn’t do it. I put it off, day after day, as I allowed my busyness to monopolize me.
Then, I received an email last Saturday. He was worse. The cancer, doctors said, had spread to his brain. Then, I received the final email Sunday morning which I retrieved from my phone on my way to church. Fuzzy had died, and with him my last opportunity to make him laugh.
As a Christian, I of course believe that life in Christ is Eternal. But I also believe that "eternal" is far more than securing life in the hereafter. Eternity began with Fuzzy long ago. Cancer didn’t force Fuzzy into eternity. He was already living it! Salvation is God’s solution for taking away our sin, not just the the guilt. Salvation is God’s solution for an abundant life; a living water. Fuzzy’s hereafter arrived early Sunday morning, and now, of course, he is in the presence of Jesus today which eases the burden of regret for me a little.
Fuzzy was a Christ follower that resulted in an abundant life. He
was a heavy drinker of living water. His intoxicating laughter proved
Laughter is God’s ordained sign of life in Christ. Laughter was something that Craig "Fuzzy" Zeller mastered! It is a vital component of a full and vibrant life that reaches into the very dark places of the human soul. How much do you want to bet that there are far more people laughing with Fuzzy in heaven as is crying for him on earth.
It was the greatest life lesson that Fuzzy the teacher / friend ever imparted to me.