(Written Monday June 30, 2008 on the train home from New York City)
went to visit Jon yesterday. It had been years since I'd seen him, but
that didn't matter. Mention Jon, and my heart smiles. The image that
comes to mind is one I only actually saw in a photograph. I vaguely
remember the picture being taken. It's more a memory of the "feeling"
of the time. The grown-ups are grouped on the old brown sofa in our
living room on Walden Road, probably in 1958 or at the latest 1959. (It
was the couch that later caught fire and the undamaged half became my
first bed when I outgrew my crib. When the fire broke out my big
brother ran upstairs and scooped me from my crib, carrying me in his
arms to safety. I told Daddy, when he came home, that Bobby had carried
me in his arms "like Superman".) Sitting at their feet, if you looked
at the black and white print, you'd see a little blond girl, with her
sun suit strap slipping off one tanned shoulder and the other arm thrown
around a patient looking beagle. She's looking away from the camera,
almost as if she knows that the star of that photograph is the small
brown haired bundle of energy sitting next to her. He's looking
straight at the camera, his face fully lit up by his delight with life,
exuberance spilling out of his toddler's body. His smile takes up most
of his face. There is laughter in his eyes. He is palpable joy. He is
Jonnie. He is my cousin.
I suppose there was a time when I didn't
know him, but it was very brief, and hidden deep in the realms of
earliest memories. He was born a month before I turned one, and my
memories of the time before Jonnie are very, very faint, if at all. I
can't say we grew up exactly "together", as we lived several states
apart, but in those childhood years, our families visited often and we
children grew to count on the security of one another when the grownups
went off to do whatever it was grownups did in the 50's and early 60's.
I'd visit his family in the Bronx or they'd come to our home.
Sometimes, there'd be a little awkwardness as we became reacquainted
with each other, and learned the leaps and bounds we'd each taken in
life since the last visit. Two smart, focused little kids, checking out
each other, testing to see had done what since the last visit.
were some things I was better at (swimming, playing with large groups
of people, smoozing the grownups) and some he was better at (math, being
precise in saying what he meant, remembering facts and letting me know I
didn't.) But we couldn't outdo the other's love of books. We each
loved to read. I remember him being surprised that a girl read
boy-oriented books. I like to think it was something that made him like
me a little bit more.
There are other childhood memories--
playing on the merry-go-round on the playground behind my home, swimming
in a saltwater pool in the Bronx, watching fireflies from the stoop of
Mikell Avenue, sharing a joke or a funny turn of phrase (we both seem to
have developed a dry humor. Perhaps it's genetic?) putting on a show
for our Grandmother-- but I'd rather remember my absolute favorite
conversation with Jon. It was when we both were in our early 20's,
unmarried, neither with a prospect in site. He came through St Louis on
business, and stopped to visit. We went out for a drink, and spend
hours talking. I found that the little boy with the laughter in his
eyes had grown into a thoughtful and very insightful young man. I liked
him a lot. There was an amazing intensity in those blue eyes, but a
real vulnerability, too.
Maybe it was our 20 some years of
knowing each other. Maybe it was the scotch. But regardless, he let me
into a little space of his soul, and I have never forgotten. I don't
remember the exact words but the gist of what he said was beautiful.
know the world values money and material success. I know that
succeeding means making more and more money, and getting ahead in
business. But what I want is a woman I can open my heart to and build a
life with. A woman I can love completely. To me, that would be
Jon found that woman, and built a life (and rebuilt
several houses in Brooklyn in the process.) They started a family.
Their oldest son has my father's name as his middle name, and that
always touched me more than I ever thought possible. Every time I heard
about Jon, he only grew in my esteem. The boy with the laughter in his
eyes had grown up well. And I looked forward to getting to know him
again as adults. It was something I planned to do.
I went to
visit Jon yesterday. I went with family and friends, who gathered
together to remember him. Jon died suddenly a few days ago, leaving a
stunned and shell-shocked group those of us who loved him. At the
memorial, the words spoken by those who had been close to him these
years when I was not gave me both enormous joy and great sadness. I
missed my chance. I thought I had time. The boy with the laughter in
his eyes had indeed grown into a remarkable, remarkable man. I am
honored to be in his family, and grieve more that I could imagine at his
passing. I grieve for his wife and sons, and for his parents, and for
his brother, sister-in-law and nieces. I grieve for the missed
At his memorial, Jon's best friend Joe spoke some
real words of wisdom. I'll paraphrase him and add a bit, too, for it
helps me to put some sense of something into the senselessness of loss.
If you love someone, tell them, don’t wait till tomorrow, tell them now.
If you miss someone, tell them, don’t wait, you may not have it
tomorrow. If you’ve been thinking about someone whether it’s a friend,
family, an old lover, the kid you grew up with, whatever, if you’ve been
thinking about them, get in touch with them. If you haven’t had a
physical, get one. If you haven’t updated your will, do so. Take the
time now, take it now. For those who love you and those you love.
Jon. I miss you. I always thought we'd have time, that you'd be
there. I'm glad you had such a love-filled and full life. I'm glad you
have such wonderful sons and such fabulous friends. I'm glad you found
the woman of your heart. I just wish there was a tomorrow, so I could
tell you I love you.
From the New York Times
Born August 13, 1957. Passed away suddenly on June 25th, 2008. Loving
husband to Kim, beloved father of Jamie and Skye, son of Monroe and
Evelyn. Director of Membership and Connectivity with the International
Securities Exchange. We, as well as all who knew him, will miss his
intelligence, his keen sense of humour and fine wit. Services will be
held at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, Amsterdam Avenue corner 91st
Street, New York, 2pm, Sunday June 29, 2008.
Published in the New York Times from 6/28/2008 - 6/29/2008.