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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What Does It Matter What You Say About People?



A man you don't know is dead.

I know him. Too many dead people just now. Another friend called to tell me, just as he did a month ago for another. It didn't register until the receiver was replaced. I sat for a quiet moment after, and considered the scythe that takes the winter wheat; the summer; the very stubble in the field.

Fifty-four he was. That's it. Older than me, but not old, surely? His children are grown enough to be elsewhere. He raised them well enough for them to leave him. Now he's left them. The second sweetest woman in the world is his wife, and I cannot think of her just now. I don't have the gas in the tank to get to the end of that road.

I said I knew him. No man knows another, really. We worked together a bit. We did different things at the same time. A kind of respect, perhaps affection, appears in those situations, or doesn't; because the world is full of those that don't elicit it -- usually more than those that do -- or maybe it's you that comes up short. Once in a while you take a man's measure and submit to the same in turn and you're glad he's there instead of some millstone. He thinks the same of you. That is a man you can work with.

He was easy with a laugh but didn't constantly stop to jaw. When the world must be physically different at the end of the day, you learn to hate the man that won't stop talking, or start working -- one or the other or both. He kept going. But you can't keep going forever, can you?

A tradesman can't get rich but one way. He can work a lot. You can't work a lot if people don't like you and you don't know what you're doing. He made a comfortable life for his family and even managed a little leisure. I've stood in a decrepit building with him at two AM, both still trying to make the world different enough to get our shekels and get our leisure. His is taken from him, now forever; and mine never seemed to arrive.

They took all he had near the end there. Men who do not deign to fill out forms can find anything they want on a workingman's forms. There is no way to be correct; you can only not come into their line of sight. It's like a cat and a mouse. You know how it will play out but not exactly how it will be played. They ignored the men who worked just next to him that made no pretense of honesty, ever, because only an honest man has enough meat on his bones to attract their appetite. He tried; that was his mistake.

They stripped him bare and hounded him. They made him into an indentured servant. They told a man that had thirty years of two AM, two AM, over and over, that he had another life of two AMs to make up. To keep them in their ease.

He drank a bit. I might have too, and worse. He walked on feet with the toes gone one after another and tried to fill the hole without a bottom. Theirs,especially; and his. He had a big heart, but not big enough it seems.

I could shake a fist for him now, at some unseen Olympus we dare not tempt in life. There's no point. He was a man, flawed and funny and kind, and now a kind of contraction has happened to my planet. It is diminished. The electrons still flow through his wires, and the whole universe would travel through those anonymous conduits eventually, if you gave it enough time.

But there's never enough time. What does it matter what you say about people?

4 comments:

Joe D. said...

That was nice, Greg. He was a good man, flawed like the rest of us.

Thanks.

Joe

PatHMV said...

Men who do not deign to fill out forms can find anything they want on a workingman's forms. There is no way to be correct; you can only not come into their line of sight. It's like a cat and a mouse. You know how it will play out but not exactly how it will be played. They ignored the men who worked just next to him that made no pretense of honesty, ever, because only an honest man has enough meat on his bones to attract their appetite. He tried; that was his mistake.

So very true, and so universal. I'm a lawyer, and my experience with the busybodies of the bar association's disciplinary counsel is the same. They go after the honest guys who maybe made a mistake, juggled one too many cases trying to make their own living, instead of the real crooks who prey on others' misfortunes and by nature lie even when the truth would serve them better. The really bad ones put up too much of a fight, and put on a self-righteous, morally indignant act; policing them is just too much trouble, mostly, for the disciplinarians. So they go after the poor honest schmuck who made a mistake, and is honest enough to own up to it rather than hide behind technicalities and belligerence.

To be sure, if we too often fail to punish those who transgress the rules, we will be doomed to lawlessness. But if the arbiters fail to always remember that we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, then the (relatively) evil men can too often manipulate the system so that the (relatively) innocent are punished while the (relatively) guilty remain free.

My condolences for the loss of your friend. Whether he amounted to a promontory or a clod of dirt, we are the less, and I am diminished by his death.

Robert said...

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


I wish I had known the friend you so perfectly eulogized. Comfort to you and his family.

Pensive said...

A man you don't know is dead..... I did not need to know him. If he wins your accolades he was surely a good man. Maybe too good for this earth in precipitous decline.

I am sorry for your loss, but more sorry for his wife.

I lost a good friend before Christmas, one week away from retirement. Good men are hard to replace, good friends - impossible.