A Lesson Half-Learned

Shock and disbelief assailed me when I first heard it.

Then guilt  crept in, saddening that day and the weeks that followed. Why? How could he do this? Kill himslef? It couldn’t be true.

But it was, and it still haunts me to this day. It reminds me of all the missed opportunities in my life.

Not the opportunities to leap ahead of everybody else, but opportunities to stop and lend a hand – to embrace, to look into other people’s eyes and to love.

He was slim, smart, honest and troubled. A few “bad” things seem to have triggered the outcome. An ugly divorce that kept draining his account, a teen-aged child with problems and many hours of work with little reward. Who knows what else conspired to stretch thin his tolerance in a world spinning faster with each passing day?

In the shop we shared working space, some tools and information on how to best do the job. A misunderstanding, once, cemented our relationship and I learned to respect him.

The last Christmas we worked together, I gave him a bottle of wine, wished him well, and took home a strong, warm and affectionate handshake. And that was it.

Today I ask myself why I didn’t spend more time with him? Why didn’t I have him over for a coffee or a beer? Why didn’t I talk with him and listen to what he might have wanted to share?

I was too busy, absorbed in my world and taken by a myriad of voices claiming my attention: an oil change in that groaning clunker, a new washer for that dripping tap. I had toys to play with, a video to explore and a book to peruse, perhaps it was Pascal’s Pensees that I couldn’t put down.

Have I learned anything? I’m not sure. I still can’t shake off that dichotomy in my life: of being deeply concerned about people yet lost in a world all my own – of ideas, dreams and not a few gadgets.

Hampered by my social ineptness, I have only a few individuals to whom my words of affection flow easily, my family, a few friends. But what about others? What about the distant one, the ignorant, the stupid, the ugly? What about the spiteful? I often wonder about the psychopath who’d kill my child and eat my liver. I could not muster so much charity as to include all social reprobates, but it breaks my heart to think how lonely people often are.

Next time I stop to say hello and look into your eyes, it is perhaps that I am trying to wrench away from the entrapment of conventions, that I am attempting to live more fully. I am not certain I can escape totally this schizophrenic state of being absorbed in trivia and “lofty goals” while clamoring inside for a profound encounter with others, but it’s clear to me, my friend, in calling it “quits” taught me a convincing lesson. He reminded me of how precious it is to be alive and to meet you.

If only I could break free!

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