Monday, January 10, 2011

Not goodbye, but hasta luego

One of the regular followers of this blog succumbed last night to a long, heroic struggle with pancreatic cancer. His name is Marvin Siegel. He was 83 years old, and and he lived in New York. Marvin was my mother's third husband.

While Marvin was not a father to me, I was an adult, and living on my own when he married my mother, his generosity, as well as support were with me through lean times. While he was not an intellectual kind of guy, or a big fan of political discourse, he had an appreciation for the finer things in life, and for the arts. He loved good food, music, and even read poetry.

More importantly, he was my mother's best friend, and the best friend anyone could want.

Marvin was a special guy. He had a heart. He had a healthy respect for the truth, and an appetite for telling it, even if it wasn't what you wanted to hear. He put the needs of those he loved before his own needs. He was magnanimous in the best sense of that word.

Some spend their time begrudging what they don't have, and others instead think of how they can make life better for those around them. Marvin saw to it he left you in a better place than when he found you.

And, when the time came, he faced his end with uncommon dignity and courage. Right up to those final excruciating weeks, he never complained about pain, but instead thought of others.

Marvin was as gracious in dying as in living, but make no mistake. He didn't want to die. His will to live was, in the best sense of the word, inspirational. The last time I saw him, he said he wanted to live to see Barack Obama elected president again.

The last time I saw him, Marvin also said "Life goes by very fast;" simple words, but ones that continue to resonate.

I'm now in northern California, thousands of miles away from his memorial service tomorrow, so instead I write this for an old friend who was, in his final days, like a small child on the verge of a great discovery.

And so, for Marvin, not goodbye, but hasta luego, and these heartfelt words from German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies:

"Who shows a child just as he is? Who sets him
in a constellation and puts the measuring stick
of distance in his hands? Who makes the child's death
out of gray bread that grows hard, or leaves it there
in the round mouth, like the core of a fine apple?...
Murderers are easily seen through. But this:
to accept death, even before life, so gently,
the whole of death, and not to be angry,
is past description."