Someone I have come to dearly love has passed away from this world, this morning, the morning of me sitting here and typing this down. The pain is unbearable, but another friend suggested to me to write about him, to share my grief, as it is not just a personal loss, but also reaches out and touches the wider issues we these days face as humanity together.
When I moved here, it was once again a new country for me, a new environment, new people. Despite this being a very slim populated area, still there are other humans around, and I was scared of what reception I would receive, whether I would be accepted or rejected and whether I would be able to cope with everything ahead of me, the practical as well as the emotional. It was a time of a great turmoil and many worries for me, as new beginnings tend to be, even though I had chosen it just this way.
The first time I met my neighbour, he puttered up the dirt road with his old worn and beaten little tractor, and I was worried, as usually not many find their way up to where I live, and I feared it may be someone not happy with a stranger having moved into the area. I walked over to the tractor, after it had pulled into my yard, and found a thin man with a truly weathered face at its wheel, white hair and a straw hat. He told me his name, then began almost to batter me with warnings, most of which I could not even understand, as he spoke fast and with a thick and to me back then still alien accent. I was quite taken aback, as I didn’t know this man at all, and he seemed very forceful and opinionated. I was also groaning inside, as I thought I had ended in some neighbour’s war or what not, not fully able to make sense of everything he spoke to me in that frightful insistence of his.
When he finally decided to leave, I felt relief and just hoped I’d never meet him again. Not able to judge what he was about, mainly having felt quite intimidated. Of course, he was a neighbour, and even if being neighbours here can mean more distance than in a city or town, it was clear and inevitable that I would meet him again, many more times in fact, and what a blessing for my life, what a gift, that I did!
Many an evening since that scary first encounter, he and I came to laugh about my first impression of him. During those evenings where we would sit next to his roaring fireplace, in his old traditional cottage, where the bare stones were showing on the wall and all those many little ornaments he had collected and loved so much, were listening to our ramblings. There wasn’t a free space anywhere on the shelves, even the ceiling held hooks from which cups and ornaments hang, and he always had a pot of stew brewing, next by that fire, and everyone walking into his home would be offered a meal, and many of us walked in and out of his home, because it was a warm and welcoming place. That frightening man had in fact grown to become one of the best friends of my life.
My neighbour had not known a good marriage; he and his ex-wife had parted on very bad terms, and I also still remember those evenings when he told me about all the things which had hurt him, silent tears running over his weathered cheeks, which he defiantly tried to wipe away. He was no angel, he had his flaws, sometimes he was moody, often stubborn, and I am sure he had not always been easy to live with either, but he was overall a wonderful human being, and I would reach for his hand and hold it gently. Usually, he’d come to finish with saying that it was no use to look back, but rather to focus on the present and future, and on the wonderful friends he had, and I felt honoured beyond measure that life had allowed me to be one of them. His main saying was ‘giving is living, and grabbing is dying’. I can not count how often he spoke it, but he also loved to say ‘oh bollocks,’ or ‘what a shite’, and when I close my eyes, I see his smirk and his wink. He was always full of mischief, but also smart and full of stories about his childhood and life overall.
Christmas before last (Christmas gone, he was already in the hospital), he wanted to know what I would like him to buy me. I told him I did not wish anything bought, but that I’d much prefer for him to make me something, and this he came to do, he made me a hiking stick. From cutting the wood to cleaning it, carving and polishing it, it was all his work, but he felt embarrassed that it was not posh, not fanciful, had not cost any money.. until I told him I thought it was one of the most amazing gifts I had ever received, and he saw the truth of this in how my eyes and my face had lit up, while holding his precious gift tight and close. We both felt the greatest joy, and that stick remains with me, and shall do so for as long as I shall still live in this world.
My workshop is still not set up, it is in the planning as lots of other stuff had priority, so I could not make him what I had wanted to make for him, but whenever I was out and about, and I saw something I knew would make him smile, I bought it for him. Little things, not expensive stuff, just little tiny things that can say ‘I have thought of you, and I love you’.
Now death has taken this wonderful beloved friend from me and others. A man who had worked hard all his life (he was in his late sixties) who could build a house from scratch, always knew a solution to a problem, never shied wind nor rain, and whose honesty and integrity have been a shining light in this often so sad and insane world. As individuals, he and his wife had been ill suited to each other, from all I could gather, and much hurt had come from it, as it can happen among humans, but the man I came to know, enriched my life beyond all measures. He was male, very much a so, sometimes a giggling boy, sometimes a philosopher, sometimes a man who could grunt and swear, but never a rapist and never an oppressor, instead always worth knowing, even at his worst.
There are those out there, who will reject others purely due to whether they were born a male or a female, and those who have lost all ability to meet and greet another human being with respect, warmth and care. They try to teach us to see gender and based on this to determine another’s worth or another’s inner nature. But even those who are not that extreme, often these days find their lives ruled by misgivings, only ever considering their own hurt, their own point of view. Many certainly in this world do not seem able any more to understand that giving indeed means living a life full of joy, where we see lit up eyes and faces, while grabbing kills warmth and kindness, and leads us to live in a cold empty world, filled with things that stand for nothing beyond their price tag, while leaving us bereft of all which truly matters.
On my friend’s behalf, I wish to remind everyone that life is not endless. We are only given a certain amount of time, and once the seconds have ticked away, it is too late to go back. I doubt his wife ever understood how much hurt she had truly caused him. I am certain he did cause her hurts too. Human interactions can be like that, but because men usually do not show their pains as open, because they do not cry out loud as women do, instead battling to hold it in until they can no longer hold it, and it comes to flow as silent tears from their eyes during an evening by the fireplace.. we often don’t think they can hurt as deeply as women do. It is this misunderstanding of men’s endurance, an endurance they get taught early by our societies, which leaves them so vulnerable to abuse, as no one cares, as no one sees their pains in the open.
My friend’s former wife came to his bedside in these last days; I was told that she did, and I can only hope that she held his hand and stroked it gently, after more than two decades where they had clung to their hurts and resulting hate. I hope she remembered all that he had given to her, from the house I know he had built for her with his own hands (and whose kitchen she felt he had made too small) to the money he had brought home so they could eat and heat.
While he was lying there, battling for the little bit of life he had left, I hope she realized he needed love and warmth from her, not more accusations and lists of where he could have done better, and I truly hope she found ways to show him that needed love and caring warmth.
While I sit here crying, struggling to type, blinded by my own tears, looking ahead and knowing I will miss him so very much. I also think of how time truly knows equality, as it is ticking away for men and women indiscriminately, and it does not wait for us to learn our lessons before it is too late.
Giving is living while still alive, and grabbing is dying long before our last breath. We know what hurt can do to us, and thus we should not ever carelessly bring hurt to others, as well as that we need to realize women don’t suffer more, just because they often find it easier to show suffering, but that men deserve hands reaching for theirs just the same, while scared and in agony. Just because men are taught to be strong for us, should never mean that we forget that deep inside they feel just as we do.
My friend enriched the lives of those of us here beyond what I could ever press into words, and his passing lets us all feel the deepest of loss, but I hope his story can still help others out there, to learn before it is too late.
I know he’d love that, to still give to others, even after his leaving this world. He was just that special, that beautiful, that precious a human and a man, who had shelves full of little ornaments, right next to his chainsaws and tools, and while he knew how to dust the ornaments with greatest of caution and care, he also knew how to wield those tools with the utmost strength and life-long experience.
A place in our midst has been left empty, and the world as a whole is poorer for it, because of you my friend, having left it…