I knew something was wrong when I didn't hear the sound of his garage door opener at a quarter to six that Wednesday morning. He was usually out and about by then, off for breakfast and coffee. Typically, I had rolled out the trash bins Tuesday afternoon for the four condos sharing our building. Atypically, he did not retrieve them Wednesday morning, as had been his ritual over the past several years.
When this unlikely scenario repeated itself for several weeks I finally realized something was wrong. I didn't see him or hear him and ultimately learned that he would never bring in those trash bins again.
Although we shared the same first name, we never had a lengthy conversation. He was friendly enough, but taciturn and silent. We communicated: Said "Hi David," and "Hi David," and that was it mostly. But that was OK. He led his life and I led mine.
Sometimes it's possible to get the measure of a man without ever really knowing him, and I believe this was the case between us. There was a sort of mutual respect indicating an unspoken compatibility, and I liked that and felt comfortable with it.
I recently have had the opportunity to meet his children and friends and express my sympathy to them. They are all wonderful people. I wish I had known them better, but they were kind enough to share some of the trials and crises that he and they went through as they discovered that the chemotherapy was no longer effective and that he had decided to forego that and other treatments for his cancer.
There was never any grief or mourning that I could detect over the next couple of weeks after this decision. In fact, I learned from one of his sons that he was alert and lucid throughout the final days of his illness. His passing was about as peaceful and painless as could be imagined, he said.
What was my duty here as a Christian? Of course I prayed for him as soon as I learned of the seriousness of his illness. But, I am asking myself, could I have reached out more frequently? Should I have pressured him into a more cordial relationship? Could we have been friends? Maybe we were and didn't know it.
But then I ask: Why? To make me feel good? To make me feel I had done something to make his life better? (As if knowing me would somehow make his life better!) Perhaps things were exactly as they were meant to be: Each of us leading our own lives yet knowing that each would be there for the other if need be.
As it turns out my David namesake will be living rent-free in my mind for years to come. I will never forget him. I cannot. For, in conversations with his children, it was discovered that he and I have a shared passion. There is no other word to describe the intensity of people addicted to crosswords.
As a result, I have been given several books of crosswords that he had been working on, including treacherous and devilish challenges from the New York Times. As a true crossworder, he always wrote his answers in ink. It is now my responsibility to complete these puzzles for him and in his name. I am honored to do so.
Now at home with the Omnipotent and Eternal One who created this great puzzle upon which we live, he now knows all the answers. I continue to struggle. And so do we all.
But his pain and suffering are over; and he lives anew in glory.