““I answer the heroic question, ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ with ‘It is here in my heart and mind and memories.’”” – Maya Angelou

I’ve  had to adjust my schedule today, because I’m going to a funeral.

He was someone whose connection to me fell somewhere between being an acquaintance and a friend. A friend’s friend. We spent some time together, but never just the two of us. We sat next to one another at basketball games. We were at the same dinner parties. KFF and I were invited to his son’s bar mitzvah.

SW was a nice man. Loyal to his wife and devoted to his two children, he was the consummate family man in the Ozzie and Harriet tradition. As far as I knew, SW never said a mean thing, never got drunk and nasty, never cheated a customer or business partner. He enjoyed a glass of wine and the occasional cigar, but never did anything excessively. He didn’t even put dressing on his salad.

He was a model of sensible living among a throng of overdoers. Yet, when it came to the “who will die young?” lottery, SW drew the short straw.

I believe there is some kind of balance in the universe, but the scale is too big to see. And the weights we put upon it, too many to be counted.

Since I got the phone call, I’ve tried to keep my mind and heart where it should be – mourning this good man. Yet, here I am working.

SW was not an exceptional man in any conventional sense. He was not dynamic. He was not good looking. He earned a good living, but was not wealthy. He was liked but not admired. He was a person who applied his natural gifts (a solid intelligence, a capacity for work, an instinctive humility) diligently.

He was exactly the kind of person you would expect to live a long and quiet life.

But a year ago, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. And yesterday, he died. He fought it for six months, trying one implausible solution after another. Then, just as the summer ended, he gave up and sort of collapsed into the shelter of his family.

He stopped coming to the basketball games. He attended only one more dinner party at which he sat alone most of the evening, or sat among his friends, smiling politely, making the perfunctory comment, doing just enough to make those around him feel comfortable.

I dreaded his presence and yet wanted to ask him the most intimate questions. How does it feel to live when you can’t pretend you are going to live forever?. Is there any comfort in believing? Can you still – during that last dark period – deny death?

I wanted to tell him how sorry I was . . . how terrible it was . . . how unjust . . . and so on. But all I could manage, when I found the courage to sit down next to him and look out with him onto the backyard and the moonlit pond behind it, was to place my hand gently – and only briefly – around his shoulder.

Some of his friends were disappointed with his behavior. Several times, I heard comments about how difficult the “whole thing” was on his wife and children. There was some implication that he was not doing enough for them.

SW was dying as he had lived – modestly and carefully. Yet, some of his friends were upset with him for not being more than he was.

The fear of death is our deepest instinct; its denial our most constant intellectual product. In the face of death, everything else – all the efforts we make, all the dreams we have, all the goals we pursue – must seem like foolish distractions. Still, in our living moments, this dreadful knowledge happily disappears. And in its place, ideas and dreams rush in.

It’s now an hour before the funeral and I’m checking my calendar. I’ve got a meeting with BSP. And a conference call about a real estate deal . . . .

Be thankful this weekend.