Profile Of A Courageous Life

We label people. Typically one to three adjectives at best and done. No more that we need to know  about what makes that person a whole human being. They are defined.

To a large degree this is necessary. So many people, so little time to discover and limited storage space. Unlike computers we cannot just add another memory card. So we make shortcuts. Labels.

 It becomes rare that we have an opportunity to discover how right or wrong our labels are. If  lucky, the opportunity arises to find out that the person was so much more than our label. That happened to me this week. It was at his funeral.

As some of you know I am still in mourning  over my Mom. I do not do very well with death but I have such huge sympathies for those left behind that I make it a point  to pay my respects . So I went with my wife and sister-in-law to the ceremony for their cousin.

Mark had just turned 60 this past October so he left at a relatively young age though that was not part of the label I had developed for him. When we first met about 15 years ago he was a slightly built, very quiet guy with a weak handshake. (the labeling begins early). He seemed to be what we in the Jewish community would call nebbishy. (The first word of his label). I do not remember having a conversation with Mark beyond hello, how are you. I know that I did not try very hard.

Mark came with a wife (a school teacher who was pleasant enough but not overtly warm) and two preadolescence kids, one of each. I do not have a memory of what Mark did for a living though he may have  worked in a family business.  Did not know, did not care.

Not many years after our first meeting the label added too new words–sick and poor. Now it was poor, sick, nebbishy Mark. All that I needed to know.

The sick was a double whammy of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. Nothing like a couple of degenerative diseases that impact movement and to cause your brain to break down. As with all serious, long-term diseases  these take a toll on the family as well as the patient. Oh, to top things off, the daughter had a couple of serious medical conditions as well.

The different reactions to crushing life circumstances range from anguish/self-pity/melancholy leading to giving up to anguish/resolve/courage leading to getting and giving the most from what you have. (Anguish has to be there–what you feel and do next  are the differentiators.)  I never really knew which direction Mark , his wife and kids had taken.

My wife was not close to these cousins and so I would see them only every few years at family gatherings as the kids grew up and his conditioned worsened. I suspect that if I had paid attention I would have noticed that there was not a drop of self-pity in the room with them. 

They got by on a teacher’s salary since for a long time Mark was either underemployed and then unemployed due to his conditions. So the “poor, sick” parts of the label continued. The nebbishy faded into the background a bit– at least it was never voiced again out loud– in respect of the devastating impact of the diseases.

I was at the funeral to be respectful. By the end I was amazed and moved. Mark was eulogogied by the rabbi, his son, his daughter and his wife in that order.  My label did not do justice to this man.

Risk taker. My best friend. A caring and involved parent. Lover of the arts. Sports enthusiast. Lived life to the fullest. Did what he had to do. Always found ways to get the most out of life despite the illnesses.  Lover of current events. Transformed me. Made me what I am today. Was always there when I needed him. Worth any sacrifice I made for him.

Story after story. Laughter and tears. Much love.

He left behind two fine, young adults who will do honor to him and bring good to the world. 

No, my labels may have been accurate (or not) but at a minimum they were woefully incomplete. Too bad I found out after his life was over.

Don’t wait. Found out more now. You are likely to be amazingly surprised.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

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