The Measure of a Man…how he lived his life

I used to see him occasionally around town but I was never sure if he knew me so I hesitated to talk to him. Besides, he was a tall, imposing figure with an intense demeanor that kind of scared me a bit. He was a former colleague of my husband so I knew of him but very little about him.

Several months ago our paths crossed unexpectedly at a radiologist’s office. I was there for my daily radiation treatment for cancer and he was a new patient. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter. I said “Hello,” and he looked up at me with a searching look, but my husband was there beside me so perhaps he made the connection. What I saw in his eyes troubled me. He looked terrified and like he was definitely not feeling in control of what was happening to him. It startled me to see a man who normally had so much composure look so frightened. We tried to be comforting to him and his wife,

Several weeks ago we learned that he had died. His cancer had metastasized and he was unable to tolerate the radiation treatments. A month and a half ago I learned that my cancer (which had also metastasized) was in full remission. When my husband told me the news about him I felt a shiver go through me. I was the lucky one; he was not.

Today my husband and I attended the memorial luncheon hosted by his wife and family to celebrate his life. His wife had chatted amiably with my husband and me during our brief encounters at the radiologist’s office. She and my husband often sat together and waited for me and for him to complete our treatments for the day. She seemed very grateful to have my husband’s company during this very difficult time and they grew close in a very short time.

I learned so many wonderful things about him today through the words of his former colleagues, neighbors, family friends and family members that I wish I had had the chance to get to know him better. I learned he was a natural-born master gardener, historian and journalist, and to top it off, a great father and husband. I learned that The Student Briefing pages in Newsday that I used often with my students to address a wide variety of topics were largely written by him. He also wrote a highly regarded book on the history of Long Island, As if all this were not enough, he was in the first group of volunteers to serve in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in the early ’60s. His wife was in the second group, and not more than a year later, he proposed to her.

His daughters who both eulogized him were tearful and conveyed a picture of a father who cherished everything about them. His departure clearly left a big hole in their lives. His wife, a gracious and lovely woman, spoke of their early romance and the 50 years they shared as a couple. He came from a very poor background but managed, nonetheless, to live a very full and complete life. When I thought again about that look of panic on his face described earlier, I felt it must have been very difficult for such an accomplished and sensitive man to know he was facing his final days. His body was failing him, but his mind grasped every nuance of the terrible situation he was in.

I am so glad I got to learn more about him today and it made me think about my own life. What will I have accomplished? Who loved me more than life itself? How will I face my own demise? These are not happy thoughts, but they are profound human thoughts that we all experience. Hearing about this man’s life today made me want to live an even better life in the days, months or years that are left for me to live.

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19 thoughts on “The Measure of a Man…how he lived his life”

  1. Wow, I can relate to your post in that we just lost a colleague in our department at the university where I teach who is very similar to the person you describe here. I attended his memorial a few weeks ago, and felt some of the same feelings you express here. There are some people who are more multidimensional than we ever really know. Your last sentence is so true and something that we need to be reminded of every now and then.

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  2. Poignant post. Strong feelings that left me with eyes stinging with tears. I have several dear ones struggling with cancer. You created a beautiful life snippet of courage and grief. God bless you. D 🙂

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  3. What a beautiful tribute to this man’s life. Your piece was moving and reflective, reminding us to appreciate the every day. May your life continue to remain healthy with much joy. Thanks for sharing your beauty as well as that of another.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your own journey with cancer while weaving this story about this man. I am so relieved you are in remission and though you are a survivor and he is not, you both are fighters. Your words, beautifully written, will likely be one of many ways in which you will be remembered. Thank you again and a big virtual hug from me to you Barbara!
    -Dana

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  5. What a tribute. It makes me wonder about my own life that way you are and also makes me wonder what opportunities I might be missing because I am not quick to engage in conversation with people I don’t know. I will take this as my lesson today – to find the stories not just in myself but in those around me. Thank you for this post.

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  6. Isn’t this what we want for our life? For someone to recognize the meaning of our existence when we no longer exist? Lately, I’ve had more of these types of thoughts as I realize I won’t always be here. My father died less than a year ago, and I entered a new decade of life that made me uncomfortable with the prospects ahead. Now it is up to us to live a life, not just exist.

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  7. Barbara- what a beautiful post! All of the comments hare affirm that you have such a gift and each day I truly look forward to seeing what you will post. This was a bit heartbreaking- sounds like this man was very special. It must feel strange to know someone going through similar treatment and for him to have lost his battle. But, as you point out, his life was honorable and he was loved. He made a difference in the world and left behind people who will hold his memory dear. Thanks for posing these important questions and for a simply beautiful, thought-provoking, heart-felt piece of writing.

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  8. Barbara, what a beautiful remembering of this man. Fear is a difficult thing. I’m so glad you’re in remission. May that continue forever for you. You honor this man with your post.

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