To Mark, Who Died

Mark,

In January you died, and now I’m different.

I met you ten years ago in Brookline. I’m almost certain that we met at the Japonaise Bakery as coworkers, but for some reason I’m starting to doubt my memory about this. Accurate or not, I have a memory of talking to you during our shifts. You told me that you wrote, and I’d always wanted to be a writer. You were the first writer I met who told me to just write, and worry about the ‘what’ later. It was good advice.

It’s funny to me that now, years later, the circumstances of our meeting has nothing to do with my memory of you. The bakery is just a backdrop in a scene where our two kindred spirits met. Of course, I’m flattering myself by considering our spirits in the same light, let alone the same sentence. I suspect that when I met you, you had already conquered the part of your brain that sabotages us – the part that convinces us that we’re on selfish paths that will end nowhere, and that what we’re doing will ultimately be a waste. In the years between our meeting and your death, I envied you for this. But that envy is an ugly part of me that I am working to remove. I’m sorry that I was envious of you, Mark.

The last time I spoke to you was ten years ago. Back then, you worked in a bakery. You were a writer, putting your talents to a number of projects and ideas.  You were slightly older than me. You seemed kind. I liked our shifts together. You were from Maine. Or were you? Even something as simple as where you were from is difficult to pin down. Looking at this short list, I wonder if I ever really knew you. What does it mean to know someone? How many pieces of trivia are sufficient to say, “I know him?”

I know that the person who died earlier this year was a force of nature. You seemed to have a larger-than-life personality – maybe that’s why in the end life couldn’t keep up with you. You did what you were compelled to do, and what compelled you was a broad sense of kindness and awareness. You were a writer. Your writing was an honest reflection of your complexity; not an idol contrived for self-worship. Sometimes your writing didn’t make sense to me, but that’s how I know you identified with your writing. No human is fully comprehensible to another, and your writing was a direct reflection of your humanity. But this is how I knew you were genuine. We all want to lay claim to being genuine – the world says “be yourself” to children as though it were a simple game of hide-and-seek – but how many of us are truly genuine? Before you died, I suspected that at least a few people were. Now, it seems like only one person in the world was genuine and now no one is. You were truly genuine, Mark.

I cried when I heard that you died. I cried because I watched your video the morning before, and ninety-nine mornings before that. You were a daily companion to me, and then, suddenly, you weren’t. I cried because it wasn’t supposed to happen. You were only a year or two older than me. It wasn’t right. I cried because I had been thinking that I should email you to tell you that I loved what you were doing. I cried because you were inspiring me to write and speak up for good causes. I cried because I wanted to share that with you too.

When you died, I felt that there was less good in the world. I felt your absence.I felt it in the pit of my stomach.  Yours was an irreplaceable good: unabashed, proactive, clear-headed, powerful. I worry that you were so good that the world will be noticeably worse if we don’t rush to make up for the loss. But it is an unrealistic conceit to think that there are any number of people up to the task of matching the simple power behind your daily contributions.

The day I realized that the universe was different was the day my life changed. It feels fundamentally wrong that the world is permanently deprived of your gentle goodness. If nobody acts to try to make up the difference, the universe will lose something essential. But in losing you, it already has. I live in this universe, so I have lost, too.

Today, I’m not the same person you met. Since you died, I’m writing more. I’m trying to make more purposeful decisions about how I live. I’m making fewer excuses. I’m trying to live up to the lessons that I learned from you. I’m trying to figure out what they are. The first one was clear to me the day that I heard you died:

Nothing good gets done when we do nothing.

Yours in gratitude and love,

Peter

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