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Monday, February 29, 2016

A Good Man Died Today

A good man died today.


These words have circled around in my brain ever since I saw a social media post by a childhood friend, sorrowfully, sweetly announcing the unexpected passing of her father--the sort of statement that is marked by tears on the keyboard where the words were first pecked out. It takes so much strength to muster those words that the very writing of them leaves you exhausted and drained and disconnected from the very world you want to connect to when you hit “Post.”


That disconnected, connectedness is the strangest of feelings. One too many of us know better than we wished, one that we all will know at some time, one we will face again and again in the most intimate, and, more often, in more remote ways---after all, all deaths are not the same to us.


So I find myself wondering why this man’s death has held so much of my central attention, has altered some feeling of connectedness within me, why I feel that this world is one light less than it was only 24 hours before.


And I come back to this, that he was simply a good man.


I was never close to him--but you didn’t really have to be to know him….at least to know him in the way I imagine many like myself must have, as the father of a friend.


He must have been present at all those sleepovers we had at her house, on all those  eighth-grade afternoons where we gushed over her poster of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and drew the mock-ups of our wedding announcements and baby announcements--small town girls planning their futures when the world and love and life did nothing but glisten, and parents or friends or lovers only died in the movies we’d cry to as they played across an old tube TV  in her den, brought back to life instantly with the pressing of the “rewind” button.


I’ve tried to rewind time as I’ve thought about him today. I’ve racked my brain looking back for a memory or two of him coming to quiet us when we were giggling too loudly, or telling us to go to bed when the hour was too late. But I can’t come up with one. Rather, I simply remember feeling him in her house.


He was a big man, tall and lean and sort of somber-seeming until he smiled. He often sat on the pulpit stand of our church, regal and quiet.


Some adults seem to shrink as you grow older, but this man never did that in my mind. Even the last time I saw him, when he came through the viewing line at my own sweet husband’s funeral, I had to stand on the tippiest toes of my high-heels to hug his gentle-giant frame. But he never carried that height in an intimidating way...perhaps, always likely being the biggest in his circles had taught him to walk more softly, to hold his space more tenderly so that others were always drawn to him rather than compelled to shrink away. His presence was gravitational and held you in a quiet sense of acceptance and safety.


That is the feeling that he brought to my friend’s house. The house I’d played in since I was in diapers, and come back to until I left our little town at 18. It always simply had a quiet, peaceful, protective feeling within its walls. It was a small house, inside of which was a big man with a bigger heart. A good man. A good man who died today.


There was a steadiness about him too, a reliability of sorts. Sometimes home from college, or years after when I’d bring my own children to that little town to see their grandparents, I’d drive by that good man’s little house and I’d see him mowing the lawn that seemed to stretch forever from the road to the front porch. Tall and straight and steady riding on the lawn mower...and good. He was simply so good.


And that must be, perhaps why, I feel his loss today.


I’ve tried to imagine, momentarily, how my sweet friend must feel. She has her father’s big heart and I know she feels more deeply than many must know or realize--because she too, is steady and strong like him. And I’ve tried to imagine her mother’s feelings, some that aren’t hard for me to empathize with because I buried my own dear husband only months ago. But I can’t imagine their spaces very long, because, the truth is, that I come back to my own grief. I have somehow lost him too.


And not just me.


The whole world.


The other friends who came to that little house where that tall, good man lived.


The other people of our tiny town who knew him as a fixture in the church house, on his lawn mower, at the neighborhood events.


The other people who must have come to love him as his family blossomed and bloomed with in-laws and babies and new connections.


The people he worked with--honestly it surprises me to realize that I have no idea what he did professionally, but whatever it is, I intrinsically know it was something good, something where he made a difference, because he was simply a good man.


And that is the loss I mourn the most today--the loss of a good man.


It’s the loss of his goodness in this world that pulls me to my own keyboard, compels me to explore the depth of a distant grief I don’t entirely understand, and even feel somewhat guilty for, knowing how much heavier that burden is to bear today, and in all the days to come, for those who knew him the best--his wife, their children, his family.


But I also know the peace that comes from hearing others speak of the goodness of our loved ones, the feeling that comes when you hear others recognize this world’s loss of that goodness.

I know the feeling of needing the world to know---even though the globe grinds its axis still and there is no news report or flag flown at half-mast to mark the moment--that a good man died today, and things will never be the same, nor could they be, nor should they be.