Eulogy for a friend

My first encounter with Chris was on a hurried monday morning. I had picked up a bagel (cinnamon-raisin, toasted, with butter) at the bagel shop near the subway, and was on my way out, when I ran into an old gentleman slowly shuffling his way in. I excused myself, only to be greeted with a cheerful, “How are you doing today?” When I muttered the expected grumpy New York response (“Good. You?”), he responded with a “Cheer up. Its a great day”, which only annoyed be further.

I ran into Chris several times after that incident. Over time I came to take his cheerfulness for granted. It was one of the few constants in a bipolar world. It was good to chat with him over a bagel or a sandwich, and occasionally, as old men are wont to do, he would tell me the story of his life. I got to know, for instance, that he lived with his daughter and her children in a house nearby. He was born and raised in the Brooklyn of the early 20th century – when it was rough neighborhood in the process of being gentrified. I knew that he was ninety and had fought in the second world war – he claimed that he had a bullet lodged in his thigh (which gave him his limp) and that he had killed nine germans on D-day, and had been decorated for it.

In some ways, he reminded me of a grandfather I lost seven years ago – someone I grew up with, and who was responsible, to a great extent, for many of the values that I cherish. There were a lot of physical similarities between them. And they would have been roughly the same age.

Chris died a few days ago – it came to my knowledge only today. He was a stranger in many ways -I never got to know his last name – and yet, he was a reminder of how connected humanity is, and an example of how nostalgia can strike you in places where you least expect it to. I do not grieve for him – his death does not make a significant difference to my life. But, at the least, it deserves this post.

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2 Responses to “Eulogy for a friend”

  1. Tabula Rasa Says:

    one seems to come across this a lot in nyc, does one not? there was a guy who lived down the hall from us, in one of the tiny studios right next to the elevator. he mus thave been over eighty — always wore a threadbare cream pullover and a bowtie, and was always courteous whenever we shared the elevator. not that he said very much, ever. all day long one could hear the sound of a manual typewriter from inside his apartment, and the few times i sneaked a look in all i could see was a ceiling-high shelf full of leatherbound books. every morning there would be a small empty plastic deli container (the $2.29 size) outside his door, and every third day or so a carton of milk as well.

    that’s all we ever knew about him. one day we heard from the doorman that he’d had a heart attack. a month or so later they were repainting his now empty apartment. the next semester you could hear people having sex inside.

    then there was walter, the doorman with the debilitating limp. it would take the poor man a quarter of an hour to walk the block to the building from the bus stop. he was in his late 70s, most incredibly well-read, and could talk for hours on any subject — his favorite subject for me was the women of the mediterranean coast during the mid-1940s. it wasn’t unusual to come home in the early hours of the morning and then spend an extra half hour stuck at the front desk shaking jaw with walter about whatever it was he felt like that night. s included him in the acknowledgments of her dissertation — human contact so diverse and so precious. ny, ny.

    thanks for the air-space.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    i landed up on yr blog cos of the link of yr ‘first dates’ link on a friends blog…def found that post extremely intersting to say the least..
    i really like this entry…the world is def connected! and i know this, sometimes strangers know and mean more to you than people you have lived with all your life with!

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