On the way back home from a short bike ride yesterday, I passed the home of a family friend. Someone who has had a major influence on our lives in a number of ways–through great personal generosity, mostly–but not someone I'd say we are very close to.
This person has a red car to which he has always seemed attached. It's a little European sports job, something of a classic. I think the car has been refurbished–new paint, new interior, maybe new engine and power train–at least twice since this person became an acquaintance in the mid-1980s. More than anything, I think his attachment to the car bespeaks a critical love of fine things. He shows the same appreciation for books, for art, for music, for furniture, for food and drink, for baseball. And for people, too, though his critical appraisal can be uncomfortable. I have on occasion felt I didn't quite measure up to standards, and I know of plenty of refined people whom this person has sent away muttering about what a curmudgeon he is, except they weren't saying "curmudgeon."
Passing this person's home yesterday, I noticed the red car, parked as usual at the front curb. I noticed, too, that a couple of women were stopped on the sidewalk, reading a piece of paper taped to one of the car windows. I thought I saw a for-sale sign on the back. I didn't stop myself, but the scene made an impression. I know this person has had some health problems, and I thought maybe they had decided to let the car go. Not a decision he would make lightly. I thought I'd mention this at home later, but it slipped my mind.
But later Sunday, we chanced to drive past the house again. I said, "Hey, it looks like there's a for-sale sign on the red car." I slowed to a stop, and we looked at the car and this person's home, which was dark. Well, it turned out that my driving partner had news. She'd heard earlier in the day that this person is very ill. Very ill.
I can't presume to know what this person or his family are thinking. And I don't want to eulogize: it's a sunny day, and life is as good, as difficult, and as provocative as ever, with plenty to feed and sate the critical eye. But from afar–from a distance respectful but not too respectful–I'd like to say thanks, thanks so much, for all you've done for us and for the parts of your life that you have shared.