The Man I Never Knew

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for a man I knew casually when I lived in Montclair.  His death was sudden, shocking (he hadn’t been ill), and especially sad because he died during a joyful occasion,  his son’s wedding. 

In fact, he was out on the floor dancing when he dropped dead of a heart attack, which many people who knew him well said was a metaphor for his life, a life he always lived to the fullest.

As I mentioned, I knew him casually.  I would run into him mostly at the various bars around town.  He was always extremely friendly towards me, always offered to buy me a drink, and always made me laugh about something or other.  I never saw him in a bad mood, never knew him not to be generous, with me or with other people.  But for all the years I knew him, I knew very little about him.  I knew he was married, had grown kids, practiced law, was born in Mexico, but that was about it.  I imagined he didn’t know much about my life, either.  It was nobody’s “fault,”  it’s just the way that this particular relationship evolved.

On occasion, we did get into heated arguments about religion for some strange reason.  Strange, because I don’t practice religion and rarely talk about it with others.  I also never considered him a particularly religious man.  I think he just liked to push my buttons.

At the memorial service, various family members and close friends spoke at the church podium to remember his life.  The most moving speech, in my opinion, was one given by his best friend and old Army buddy.  He spoke of the time they met in the Army as young men, the bigotry they encountered together (this man was part Mexican and the Army buddy is Jewish), and how their friendship developed over time into one where they felt more like blood brothers than mere friends.

I learned that the man who died spoke several languages, traveled all over the world, loved the arts and all kinds of music, acted as a mentor to so many people, pushed the envelope in a lot of situations but usually for a “good cause,” and was extremely proud of how his kids turned out. And, I learned that one of his favorite pieces of music was Ave Maria, which they played at the end of the service. 

I felt sad.  Sad, of course, because he died too young in my opinion, but sad because I didn’t get to know him as others did.  I would have loved to discuss art and literature with him, rather than who was doing what or who in Montclair.  Rather than argue about religion (arguments, as I have learned in my short life, are never won or lost), I would have liked to have learned about all the exotic locales he visited.  I felt cheated that he never shared this side of himself with me.

If I’ve gained anything from this experience, it’s to not pigeonhole people into compartments. “Oh, I see that So-and-So is here.  Guess I am going to be discussing (fill in the blank) Liberal/Conservative/Libertarian politics tonight.”  No, I want to shake things up a bit, go outside the comfort zone of what we always talk about when we meet.  People are complex beings, made up of many different facets.  If you’re lucky, they will surprise you, as you will them. 

I would prefer learning these wonderful, interesting things about people before they are gone.