Monday, September 5, 2011

85 Years

We just came back from a long and sad weekend. One of our very best friends had lost his battle with cancer. And it was a battle that lasted twenty years! He was 65 when he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent radiation therapy. That put the cancer into remission for awhile and then, three years later, he lost his wife…a wonderful woman! He moved on, sadly, with his life, though always surrounded by his loving children. Children that we knew and loved when they were toddlers, teenagers and now adults…faced with the death of their father.
  When I first entered the construction trade, he was my first foreman. I learned so much from him! We worked together all around the country, staying for long weeks in motel rooms while we filled our days with hard work. Yes, I certainly knew this man and came to love him. And argue with him! We both loved to argue any point you might want to give us. My wife heard me talking to him on the phone one night and later she asked if I wasn’t afraid I would be fired? Not a chance!
Truth is…it’s hard to find a lot of intellectuals in the construction trades. We valued each other for that because there was very little that we couldn’t discuss…or argue about. Our families would get together on a regular basis and we would sit in his kitchen at the old round table and talk about everything under the sun; our voices rising as the rhetoric became heated. So much fun!
He was of Syrian/Lebanese descent and that same table was always covered with food. Tabbouleh, Kibbeh, Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, olives, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers and plenty of flat bread to eat it with. Funny; as soon as you walked in the door, the food would begin to appear, as if by magic.
One thing he taught me early on in our friendship I have valued for ever after and that it was a good thing to hug one another. We didn’t do a lot of that in my family…but in a Middle Eastern family, it was a requirement! And I’ve done it ever since. I remember telling my future son-in-law that he was going to be hugged regularly so he better get used to it! Yes, it really is okay to love another man and to tell him so.
He and his family were longtime members of the Syrian Orthodox church; Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles. The Orthodox church is, arguably, the oldest church in the Christian faith. We often accompanied him and family to this church and came to know some of the priests there. (Interesting note; Orthodox priests have to be married if they are to serve a parish. Priests who wish to remain celibate must work in administrative posts) We always found the ancient rituals of the Orthodox faith to be comforting. But…we’re Presbyterians with a love for the Orthodox and we see no problem with that.
Enough…my eyes are tearing up again. I can say that we attended the funeral service and listened to the Litany for the Departed, the priest chanting the old words while shaking the censer, incense and bell sounds softly filling the room. Again, we were comforted. Then it was time for the graveside service and the terrible finality of it all.
Afterwards, we gathered with friends and family for the Mercy Meal at a small Lebanese restaurant where, once again, we ate the same foods we used to enjoy while sitting around that old table, almost fifty years ago.
Almost fifty years ago? I’m afraid I’m feeling a little bit ‘old’ this week. Maybe because there were only four of us at the funeral that were old enough to remember him and his family when we were all young. Even the pall bearers had to be recruited from the generation of his youngest child.
        Okay, I have to snap out of it. I’m only seventy one now and I see years and years ahead of me. 

1 comment:

  1. After long time I visited your blog and found this post, I am sorry for your loss. Sounds like a wonderful friend.

    If he survived for 20 years, I wouldn't say he lost that battle, he did very well against a formidable challenger. I will count myself lucky to survive as long as he did.