For the most part, “they” are correct. Our lives leave what is routine, and we focus upon holiday magic, and doing for others, and enjoying the company of friends and family.
Sometimes, however, “they” can be wrong.
This post is a tribute to two Real New Yorkers who met untimely deaths. They did not know each other. Their common bond is that each lost his life during the holiday season.
Dr. S was the best physician I ever had. He was raised in the South and his Upper East Side practice was run a bit like a country doctor’s. He was practical, hands-on and listened. Barely middle-aged, he was athletic and fit. He rode a motorcycle to work.
When he and his wife came to New York, years ago, they started a healthcare clinic for the poor on the Lower East Side. They ministered to the sick and needy, and Dr. S also did his work at Lenox Hill and tended the garden of his private practice, steps from the Guggenheim.
Last year, Dr. S and his wife went on a much-needed vacation in Costa Rica. One day, he went for a swim, while his wife stayed on the wild, unspoiled and uninhabited beach. Dr. S got caught in a rip current and, try as he might, he could not make it to shore.
Last holiday season, Dr. S drowned.
I can still picture him in his office, sleeves rolled up, keying my test results into his laptop and admonishing me about my weight.
He was a Real New Yorker because he came here determined to make a life and to make his mark upon the world. He worked hard, played hard and gave a helping hand.
The second remembrance of a Real New Yorker is — I mean, was — a good 20 years Dr. S’s junior. He was born in Manhattan and was raised in Brooklyn, a Real New Yorker by birth. I knew his parents well. They were neighbors in the Park Slope co-op we lived in for 17 years.
N. was a preternaturally gifted writer. He endured the competitive pressure-cooker of Stuyvesant High School and was barely out of his teens when his first book was published. He was hailed as the voice of a generation and beloved by legions of YA fans, kids who swore that the emotions he captured were their’s. This gifted artist tapped into the mainline of today’s teen angst. There were books, screenplays, films and, now, TV scripts. N. moved to Los Angeles.
But his talent had a price tag: he suffered from depression for years. Last week, he killed himself in a most gruesome way. I simply cannot imagine what demons it takes to cause one to deliberately head to the roof of a 13 story apartment building, your parents’ home, look down at the concrete below, and let yourself fall those dizzying seconds.
Two lives, connected only by the time of year of their deaths. Of course, the game of life is that we all know that, someday and somehow, we will die. Which is why it is so hard for me to waste time — “it’s like throwing money in the gutter,” as my grandmother would have said.
Dr. S and N. are gone from this earth, but not from my memory. I am left here to ponder their promise, now unfulfilled, and to remember not to waste a single moment.
One man is gone, doing what he loved best, living his passion. The other, a young man, is also gone, lost traversing the foothills of his life, and tortured by an inner pain so severe that just one more day on earth was an unbearable, impossible, burden.
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.
B’alma di v’ra chirutei,
uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisrael,
baagala uviz’man kariv. V’im’ru: Amen.
Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach
l’alam ul’almei almaya.
Yitbarach v’yishtabach v’yitpaar
v’yit’hadar v’yitaleh v’yit’halal
sh’mei d’kud’sha b’rich hu,
l’eila min kol birchata v’shirata,
daamiran b’alma. V’imru: Amen.
Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya,
v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisrael.
Oseh shalom bimromav,
Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,
v’al kol Yisrael. V’imru: Amen.