Monday, August 23, 2004

Celebrate life and love  

For about a year I've been friendly with one of the security guards in the building where I work. His name is Ted, and he's a kind old man who'll talk to anyone about anything, though his preferred topic of conversation is sports. Back in February or March, he stopped me as I was on my way home and said, "Curt, guess what? My wife just told me that she's going to throw me a big party this year for my 71st birthday. I was wondering if you'd like to come. It's going to be some time around the end of August or the beginning of September." I had never seen him so excited—not even when the Jets got into the playoffs (that's American football, for those of you who don't know).

I didn't hear about the party again. I assumed he would remind me of it when the time got closer. Earlier this month, it occurred to me to ask about it, but he stopped showing up for work. I asked a coworker of mine if he knew anything about Ted's absence, and he said that Ted's wife had died. It broke my heart. If there was anything that gave him greater joy in life than sports, it was family. He absolutely adored all of his grandchildren, children, stepchildren, and especially his wife. I knew she had been ill, but he had indicated to me that she was on the mend, so it came as a shock. He spent some time away from work for bereavement, and then some more time for a trip to California to visit his son (a trip he had been planning for some time anyway). When he finally came back I went out of my way to see him (he had been transferred to another building), and we talked for more than half an hour about how he was coping with his loss.

Toward the end of our conversation, he told me that his "adopted" son (a young man Ted and his wife had taken into their home during a difficult time) had taken over the duties for throwing the birthday party, so it was still on. I got directions to his house, and on Sunday, Mrs. Happy and I drove out to partake in the festivities.

Even though we showed up an hour late, we were the first to arrive. (New Yorkers, even with their well-deserved reputation for tactless impatience, show an appalling lack of concern for punctuality.) Before the other guests got there, Ted sat down with my wife and me and talked for a while. He had never met Mrs. Happy, but appeared to fall in love with her instantly. Everyone does. He opened up and talked about every member of his family in a way I had never seen him do before. He talked at length about his wife, how she compensated for his weaknesses, how she was a "beautiful ray of sunshine" in his life, and how the first time he told her that she said, "You must be some kind of jive turkey."

I can't imagine what it must be like to live with a woman for so long and love her so much and then lose her. But the love shown by his family and friends at the party was truly touching. Both my wife and I were honored to be part of it.