I almost share a birthday, separated by 10 years, with a former neighbor and someone who is dear to me. She was celebrating turning 50 in style on the same weekend as I was and her husband threw her a big celebration. At the end of my birthday night, I learned that this friend’s husband had a massive heart attack during her party and was dead before he hit the floor.
I’ve known this couple for about 8 years. I used to spend summer evenings on their porch with other neighbors, laughing and telling stories. C was an affable guy and even though I knew we differed on politics, you could never tell. He was a friend to everyone, smiled easily, and loved to joke around. He didn’t need a reason to be nice to me — he just was.
When we both worked downtown, we’d run into each other in various local eateries. One time he asked me to join him for lunch. I can’t even remember what we talked about, but I remember how fun it was, even without the rest of the neighborhood gang around. We started running into each other so frequently that a running joke started about who was stalking whom. I’d see him eating somewhere through a window and wave and grin, like I’d found him *this* time.
A skilled and respected designer, he was so proud of his basement remodel that he gave Mary and me a tour and regaled us with hilarious stories about how badly a building project can go. He’d had some doozies of his own, but his first impulse was to find the errors funny — and would find a way to make it work out. As someone who takes things pretty seriously sometimes, I admired his lightheartedness. He told us hilarious stories about how a water feature in a building design was an impending disaster. Eventually, he told us, you’ll just have a feature, because the water part never works out. Now, every time we go to the Grand Hotel, I laugh because (as predicted) theirs is just a feature with lights — and not a drop of water.
In his younger years, C had been a bartender. One famously fun Porch Night, Mary had contributed about 2 dozen bottles of various liquors for the good of the whole. Our resident French horn student was in town for the festivities and we cajoled C into inventing a drink named in honor of her classical instrument. It was a delicious success, although no one could remember what was in it! His playfulness, sociability, and generous spirit made the episode into a legendary story that was told again and again with fondness.
The other thing I really admired about C was his relationship with his wife. I’ve never met two people who so obviously like each other and have so much fun together. In their 20+ years of marriage, they vacationed a lot — with their daughter and alone — but they also just had fun just living. The two of them shared a sense of humor and you could tell they enjoyed stoking the fun between them. They’d apparently yukked it up when a TV weatherman decided to find out what happens when you step into the center of a dust devil. Months later, one of them texted a photo to the other of an actual dust devil they saw from the road. Hilarity ensued. It was as if they created a private world between them of fun, of love, and respect.
Learning of C’s death at the end of my birthday stunned me. I was honestly waiting for the punch line at the end of his wife’s Facebook status. He was only
50! 48!! It couldn’t be possible.
I woke up around 1am and thought about C. About his life. About the kind of man he was and how so many people admired and liked him because of his kindness and ability to connect with anyone.
As I lay there in the dark, it dawned on me that I’m only 8 years away from 48. It could be me that dies 8 years from now. It made me wonder: Am I proud of the life I’ve lived so far? Do I like the impact I’ve had and the direction I’m going in? All of these questions swirled around for a while, and I shed tears knowing there’s more. I have more to do with my life. I have more I want to be.
I have him to thank for this insight. I took for granted what an inspiring, generous person I had in my life and I’m so sad that he’s gone. I’m also thankful for his example and will use it to inspire the person I become.
Something tells me that I’ll have a lot to think about while I’m walking on the Camino.