So I heard a story so profoundly sad recently about an acquaintance and all I could think was of The Beatles’ song A Day In the Life. The opening lines – “I heard the news today, oh boy” – kept running through my head. I can’t shake the sadness I feel and the whole thing has made me wonder about the safety net we all should have and what happens if we don’t.
For many years, my parents went out several times a week to a local restaurant. It was really the equivalent of Cheers for them because they knew everyone and everyone knew them. When they walked in, the bartender – the great and glorious Lenny – had their sodas waiting for them at the bar. (They always sat at the bar for dinner so they could chat and interact with the folks around them). Over the years, my great kid and I would join them there several times a month and got to know – although not as well as my parents – the eclectic mix of people who populated the bar.
One of these interesting people was a gentleman who always tipped his cap to the women, chatted up anyone who sat near him and had unique stories to share. He was a bit of a loner, coming to the bar a few times a week to have a burger and a few beers and then head home. He shared with my Mom once that he was estranged from his daughters and that it pained him so.
When my darling Dad died, they hung his picture at the bar for years in honor of his memory. My Mom, a baker of muffins and the occasional cake, would always bring a muffin for Lenny (because she loves him so) and then started bringing a muffin for this gentleman as well. He was always grateful to my Mom for what was really just a small gesture.
As I’ve shared before, the last conversation I had with my Dad about 2 hours before he died was him asking me to promise I would always give my Mom flowers from him on their wedding anniversary (a promise I am proud to have honored and always will). On my Dad’s first anniversary in heaven, I went with my Mom to the restaurant to celebrate my Dad’s life by having dinner and toasting him with our glasses of soda. I brought her a huge bouquet of tulips and reminded her that they were from him.
This gentleman was seated across the bar from us and he must have asked our friend, Lenny, what the occasion was. Lenny explained that it was my parents’ anniversary and that I was giving my Mom those flowers from my Dad. (I found out about this conversation from Lenny after the fact). As we finished our meal and got ready to leave, we asked for the check and Lenny told us that this gentleman had paid our bill to honor my Dad and to make my Mom smile. And we couldn’t even thank him because he had managed to sneak out without us noticing. His gesture of kindness and generosity was extraordinary, a lovely thing to do by someone who truly was not someone we knew well at all.
This restaurant closed a few months ago and Lenny had left and moved too far away a few months before that so we had lost touch with this man who had been so kind and who so appreciated the smallest of conversations with the person sitting next to him at the bar.
And then, a week or so ago, I heard that this man had died. He died on his 70th birthday and he died because he chose to end his life that day. And that makes me so deeply sad.
We never know what is going on in someone’s life or what thoughts are raging in someone’s head or what pain is piercing their heart. We only see, we only know, we can only react to what they tell us. But hopefully we all have parents, siblings, children, clergy, acquaintance and friends (whether real or the social media kind) that make up our safety net. We are not alone, we should not be alone, we do not have to be alone. And that this gentleman did not think he had someone to lean on, to reach out to, to ask for help or comfort or a kind word makes me weep that the world has lost a kind soul.
If you need help, if you need a shoulder to cry on, if you need a hand to hold, if you need a prayer, whatever you need, I beg you to ask. Please don’t let fear or shame or isolation or the passage of time deter you from reaching out. Don’t let time or distance or the walls we’ve built to protect ourselves from hurt limit you. We are all in this together. It is easy to be a friend to those you know. It is harder to be a friend to someone you don’t really know but the rewards are enormous. The good you do will come back to you so many times over. To quote the genius of Stephen Sondheim, “people make mistakes . . . thinking they’re alone . . . someone is on your side . . . no one is alone.”
Rest in peace, Bob. And, with thanks to Sarah McLachlan, “you’re in the arms of the angel. May you find some comfort here”.