I recently found out that three people I knew have passed away. One, a friend of my father, one, a boss and later friend from Cleveland, and one a boyfriend from South Carolina. They were all younger than one should be when that happens, and it’s got me thinking about their lives, and by extension, my life.
I didn’t know Annie very well, but I spent 3 years working for John, and Nelson and I lived together for almost two years. Although both John and Nelson died at 59, there could not be a greater contrast between John’s life and Nelson’s, and that’s what has me thinking.
An electrical and industrial engineer, John worked his entire adult life, stayed married, and raised two sons. I don’t think I ever saw John angry.
Nelson was surveyor, bartender, landscaper. A genius who chose fun over money or responsibility, he had a TV and a car because they were given to him, not because he could afford to buy them. He also had two grown sons, but was divorced from their mother while they were young. We had a great time together fishing, doing crossword puzzles and other southern things. Nelson taught me how to make cole slaw, boiled peanuts, cornbread, and many other things. He taught me how to relax a bit. Nelson was a good teacher and a good man. Eventually I couldn’t stomach his friendship with the bottle and the pot pipe and too-easygoing attitude and I left him. We kept in occasional touch for a few years, but it’s been maybe 4 years since we’ve spoken.
I’m lucky in that all of my immediate family is still alive, and my life has not really been touched by death yet. If I were to die at 59, or even sooner, would I want to be a working person in a business suit as John was, or a carefree poor person as Nelson was? The true answer for me lies in between the two. The news of their passing makes me feel the urgency of my goals and the passing of time more keenly than before. At the same time, both Nelson and John had full lives with many friends, and that’s a good thing to think about too.
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