What's prompting these thoughts is that my friend Alan's father died earlier this week, suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Alan is the college band friend I always stay with when I visit New York City. I've written about attending the bar mitzvahs of his children in recent years. Alan's father was maybe two or three years older than mine. The thing about friends you've known for thirty years, or perhaps simply since college, is that you know their parents as well. In this case I'd seen Alan's parents at a wedding and two bar mitzvahs; they certainly knew and remembered me from thirty years ago.
Just last April I spent a few days at Alan and his wife Lynda's place in NYC, during which time I also visited my college friend Joel and his wife Sherrie. I'm not sure why, but I found myself musing on the fact that all five of us have two living parents, which seems notable now that four of the five people I mention are past fifty and the fifth arrives there soon. When I brought this up I discovered that my friends had been considering this as well recently, but in terms of the observation not that they have two living parents but that their teenaged children have four living grandparents. I think because we had this conversation so recently the news about Alan's father brings me up short -- one of the things Alan and I talked about in April was that his father was relaxing and enjoying his retirement, gettting more easygoing. As part of these conversations last spring we reiterated that all of our parents are in good health, more or less. So you can see why this news is more startling than it might otherwise be.
There's not much I can do besides call and write. I wish I were in a position where I could just fly east to drop in while my friends are sitting shiva, but that would not be reasonable. And yet there's something interesting that's going on here, a little pleasant thread that surprises me. I learned this news from a note my friend Jessica sent me and a few others -- a gracious and practical note, almost a model of how to phrase this sort of news while giving the details for contact. I then forwarded that note to a few other people -- all people who have been friends since we were in the Brown band in the 70s. In response people send me little notes thanking me for passing on the information. And so, suddenly and unexpectedly, there's this little bit of communication, of community reinforcement, like little lights flashing across the country. I'm not talking about any actual conversation here, just the small touch of checking in with each other. Here's some sad news about Alan's dad. Thanks for letting me know. That's pretty much it.
It feels pleasant to be having this little flush of mutual checkin. Which is understandable, but it seems odd nonetheless.