I don’t know why Joan and I never quite clicked. Perhaps because I firmly subscribe there is absolutely nothing that is above humorous reproach. Yet her humorless face always harbored a sangfroid that seemed above reproach.
In other words, I am a cynical wise-ass. Nothing is sacred. Like the time years back at one of our introductory meetings when I informed her that women who keep their maiden name (as in Markman versus Becker) often didn’t keep their husbands. Obviously she wasn’t amused.
After all, Joan Markman was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for 20 years before she became Philadelphia’s first Chief Integrity Officer. She developed the Philadelphia mayor’s formulated commission on truth, honesty and the American way over the past 8 years.
Hmm… Sounds like Diogenes wry search for an honest man, doesn’t it? But, seriously, Joan’s commission was set upon rectifying the city’s 250-year-old indoctrinated buggery of ‘corrupt but content.’
And since 2007 Joan did much more than tsk-tsk. She blasted away those ‘shady’ smug smiles.
But of course! And of course it motivated once hesitant outliers to suddenly desire to do business with the city. After all, a penny saved is some valuable copper.
With Joan, it was this is what we’re NOT going to do anymore. No more tipping and dipping. No more pay to foreplay. No more money, honey. No more tit for dat-n-dis. No mo’… No mo’… And sometimes simply no mo’ you… and you… and you…
And when she said it, her stare was chilling. It was anything but sexy. She wasn’t one to mince words in spite of her proper upbringing just south of the Mason-Dixon in Baltimore. And apparently she was anything but a belle at the ball while grunting through law school at the exclusive University of Virginia.
In fact she was downright blunt in sometimes smacking the shaved-headed mayor – who, like me, has a rather ‘humorous’ edge — with periodic reminders to get his (expletive-deleted) act together.
Which is probably why I liked her. And especially her husband, Jim, also a legal force majeure. And her two super athletic kids, now vacating their teens, that I coached years back in summer baseball.
And now here I sit at her memorial service. The large synagogue is packed, even in the balcony – despite the ‘black’ ice outside that made traveling a slip-and-fall bonanza for personal injury attorneys. And of course there are the NFL championship football games being played. Nevertheless, to us, far away from those ‘under-inflated’ balls and over-inflated touchdowns, Joan had, obviously, long ago scored in amplifying that the purpose of life… is a life of purpose.
Then she died of breast cancer on its second time around. Breast cancer… yet one more difference between men and women.
I couldn’t quite figure why her death was affecting me so. I mean, I am typically cavalier. Another one down – 16 million to go. Even about my upcoming cross-country trek to wave a final goodbye to my 94-year-old best-friend and mother. She’s down for the final count with pneumonia.
I mean death isn’t like trying to get into a restricted country club. It welcomes anyone, even if you are an illegal alien. One and all. Even us Jews. Even if Joan’s husband is Catholic like many of the folks dressed in black around me. Even if Joan’s favorite holidays were Thanksgiving and New Year’s – two definitely non-Jewish holidays.
Death just don’t give a damn about who or what your pretensions are. Whether you are Joan at age 57… or my younger brother, Josh, at 10 months… or my friend Luca at 550 pounds… or my ex-best-friend-Ed who fell in love with Lois long before she became my ex-first-wife… or even the complicated life and death struggle of my estranged younger son (but no stranger than the older one) who miraculously is somehow going to be 21 next month.
What is perplexing me – once again – is while life may be a pleasant but bumpy journey, and death may seem so peaceful… Yet why is the transition from one to the other so troublesome? I mean, consider this: On the one hand ‘Death’ is the cure for all diseases — yet we seem to fear the cure. Also, Death isn’t contagious, yet we all fear we’ll catch it.
And what most of us don’t seem to consider – at least until we get paroled — is that life is a death sentence… a death sentence! Like marriage – until death do us part.
It ain’t a word… it’s a sentence!
Confusing, isn’t it? Or do a lot of folks already have this all figured out in those beatific grins?
But my persistent harangue – as sophomoric as you may think of me – is: What’s the point? I mean, the longer we live, the longer we die. But still, we all end up buried, cremated or some other form of horizontal, sooner or later. So did Joan die sooner so that the rest of us will value more our longer life sentences? Or is the point that after we serve out ‘our time’ we get to go to Heaven — whatever the Hell that is?
I must be getting soft. I like it better when deep down I am very superficial. And naturally these transient considerations coalesce when sitting amongst somber folks no doubt dissecting the same questions of their own lingering mortality.
Like today. At Joan’s memorial.
And all the while we were, one and all, wiping the salty tears from eyes that were wondrously appreciating the joyful vignettes of Joan’s joie de vivre. Her life of purpose. Her perseverance. It was enough to prompt me to admit that it is far more noble to die a meaningful death than to outlive a meaningless life.
Hmm… I figure the only way my death is going to pack a funeral hall like this is if all my creditors and ex-wives show up.
The woman with short black hair next to me kept dabbing her eyes with a pretty, flowered kerchief as she confided that she had known Joan and Jim since they came out of nowhere a few years back to help her resolve some desperate legal matters. And the suburban couple to my other side along the padded pew whispered that they had met Joan a few years back when the wife and Joan both ended up using the same oncologist.
Hmm… I was afraid to even ask.
Strange, isn’t it? How we meet people. Who we befriend. Who knows us well, but likes us anyway. Who we hate to love, and love to pay alimony to. And then how we all end up in the same Temple, bowing our heads to the same G-d. And thanking Him: ‘But there for the grace of G-d go I.’
And so it is.
Still, as we age and reap some perspective it just all seems – at least to moi — so oxymoronic. That is, so contradictory. I mean, we begin to die from the moment we begin to live. Life and death run parallel. It is not as Shakespeare posed: To be OR not to be. It is: To be AND not to be. We are all cruising on a ship of fools, sailing obliviously along on the same miss-charted waters, unmindful of all the icebergs as the band plays on.
We seem to be missing the point. Then again, maybe it is as my diminishing mother reminded me the other day on the phone when she said: “Perhaps there is no point. And that’s the point…” And then she added: “Or did I forget it again?”
Or something like that.
So why was I here? At Joan’s funeral service. I hadn’t seen Jim and Joan nor their kids for a couple years. Much less after the coaching days were over and done. And even less after Jim kindly helped me out of a minor logjam. And, in searching the pack of attentive faces around me the only one I really recognized was the Mayor.
Obviously our lives had moved on. And, I suppose, that with me being stuck in sort of a time warp, I was rather surprised — and admittedly a tad annoyed — that no one else was there from the championship team days of 8 years back when Joan’s son, Andrew, was our star player. And my handicapped son, Zakki, managed to contribute mightily. And for a few years hence, Zakki’s baseball friends stuck around. Including Andrew.
But the only thing constant is change. Kids grow up. Parents grow old. We all grow apart. And in the whirlwind of ordinary life, our lives dip in and out of the sunshine and back into the shadows of furtive memories.
To be honest, I think I made a point of being there because another piece of the puzzle that shapes our lives into a life of inter-connected pieces was now gone. And life for Jim and his all but grown-up kids – just as life for me and my two sons — will never be quite the same.
And I guess I just wanted to reach out and touch the magic again before it simply ups and disappears one day and forever in the rear-view mirror. I just wanted to reconnect our smiles. Our wishes and kisses. The gracious moments. The sharing and caring. Our sentient and tactile lives at joyful play. Like the days of summer and weekend afternoons when we were like our kids — filling our time with our hearts.
In shaking Jim’s hand in the greeting line after services, we simply embraced. And I thanked him. For being in my world. For enabling me to know him and Joan when there was a Jim and Joan. For our golf games together. Our easy conversations. And the kindness he always availed.
“I miss us,” I said. “I miss this… And now there is even more to miss.”
“We’ll have to catch up,” chirped Jim with that easy, toothy grin. At that he asked after Zakki. And I just smiled a wave of words that said ‘we’ll have to catch up.’
And then Andrew, much taller and broader, and his sister, Elizabeth, longer and blonder, smiled like their father. Like they really appreciated me being there. Just glad to see an old face again. Like they were relieved to be able to touch something that they remembered from when everything was still good. And simple. That I came back in time. When all our memories were kinder. And our thoughts were gentler of the future. And not of Joan’s past.
Hmm… Even though I would never admit it: I miss as much as I look forward to. And actually I wanted to say to Jim and the kids that I wasn’t here to grieve Joan’s death. But that I was here to thank G-d that such a woman lived.
And I knew her. But even more, I knew that what she purposely left behind is forever a piece of me.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…