A funny thing happened nearly two years ago: the headmaster at our sister school and I joined in holy matrimony. Well, not really, but because his wife's sister's daughter was marrying my wife's mother's brother's grandson, we found ourselves on the fringes of two families merged in marriage.
The wedding in Jacksonville was a fun affair. I wrote about it in these pages. And the headmaster and I, acquaintances at best for decades, found ourselves enjoying an extended chat over drinks at rehearsal dinners and receptions. He knew at that time that his career was winding down, and, he talked to me of a simpler life after running a school. He imagined himself teaching a couple of history classes at our school, and not much more.
Life doesn't wind down that way, and instead, after a messy ending at our sister school, he accepted an interim position up the road. And, it is speculated, he was headed to another interim interview when his car went off the road and he died a couple of days ago.
Less than two years ago, I sat with him at a rehearsal dinner. Tomorrow, I will sit at his funeral.
So I feel the connection, I feel the sadness, I feel the loss in ways that I might not have, in ways that I might not have wanted to. Is it not one of the great strangenesses of life, one of the great beauties of life , that we cannot predict the connections that will come that were never expected, that never seemed possible, that make us laugh aloud sometimes at the impossibilities of our daily dealings?
I stumbled upon a Neil Young video today. He was stalking the stage, giving a lead-in to playing Phil Ochs' "Changes,"and he was saying, "Life is short. We all know that." He was talking about Och's suicide and how Pete Seeger wished he had done something to stop it. He was talking about how he had someone contact him and he tried and tried to return contact (through other people, because that's what musicians do) but that he was never able to get through and so a fellow musician (Kurt Cobain, I assume) also killed himself. Young had no regrets. As he says in another song, "Tried to do his best/ But he could not."
So we face another death this week. But not with regret. The man who has died had always treated me and my family (both daughters attended his school) with respect. I like to think that we treated him with equivalent respect.
The best we can do sometimes seems like not enough, sometimes seems irrelevant, meaningless. Is it too ridiculous to say that treating someone decently while he is alive is enough, is all? Is it self-serving and excusing simply to be able to say that, when circumstances threw us together, we enjoyed each other's company?
Weddings and funerals both tend to distill something within us. Our extreme joy and our extreme grief come out at these times, and we "enjoy" a heightened understanding, oddly, in both circumstances, that life is indeed short. For before anyone enjoys his or her first glass of wedding champagne or bite of wedding cake, everyone present must acknowledge that death will part us, all of us.
There isn't much during the daily grind that reminds us of that. And so, I would say, for everyone within earshot, tomorrow is an important day. It is the day that reminds us why we make every effort that we deem worth making and those that we must be pushed into making--the smallest friendship gesture of taking food across the street and the decision to go see a Bruce Springsteen this weekend, who is rocking at fever pitch against his own mortality.
We celebrate a life tomorrow. Or lives, really. His and ours. Without apology, it shouldn't be any other way.