My Friend, John Beck

Today marks the one-year anniversary of John Beck's last day of life, which means we've survived a year without John Beck in the world, which seems unnecessarily cruel and wrong to me. I can't properly commemorate John. I tried, last year, tooling over a sort of eulogy that would never be given. So, in honor of John at least, herein find that tooled-over essay. I'll also try to find an end to it, here, one year down the road from that sad and strangely apt day.

"The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long."
- King Lear, final stanza

The best way to honor and remember John would be to make something. He loved creation, the artistic process, and spontaneous beauty. I don't feel much like creating a comedy in the wake of his departure, but that, too, would be apt. He loved comedy, and his laugh was a gruff celebration of the sudden moment.

The second obstacle is that I have always been just as likely to make something he hated as that he loved. John was a man of strong opinions, and very little compunction about sharing them.

He was rarely unkind, however, and unfailingly polite. Many people confuse so-called political correctness with politeness, but John understood the distinction. Distinctions, you could say, were his specialty.

If I dared to write something in honor of John Beck, perhaps it would be something that was full of puns and wordplay. I worked for John as one of his several proofreaders for some little time. But that direction is inviting disaster. I wasn't a very good proofreader, and I couldn't hope to match John's allusions, and vocabulary, and cold, rotten pun-age.

But here I am, trying to make sense of something senseless. I remember a moment from my history with John; I remember it rather regularly. It serves as a piece of advice I repeat to myself time and again.

I had recently become enamored with the crossword puzzle in New York Magazine (he would - years later and out of the blue - send me a subscription) and I was sitting at his round glass kitchen table one breakfast puzzling over what I took for a pernicious clue. He answered it immediately - something obvious, really - and he told me, "You're trying too hard." I was. I do.

It's the loss that's senseless. Everything else - the life, the illness, the death - that's all as sensible as to madden. In fact, maybe what bothers me most is the contrast. That something so prescribed, so foreseeable, so universal as death should arrive as such a shock to my system.

But I'm wrong. I'm trying too hard. What bothers me most is that I don't get to see John again.

Grief is its own emotion. It is not sadness, though it feels very sad. It is not encapsulated in the behaviors associated with the "grieving process," unbound by such landmarks as anger and acceptance. There is an element of time, a fourth dimension, to grief that frees it to do as it pleases. Time is the undefinable ingredient. The ambush of sorrow from day-to-day is the relatively short-term (or at least eventually better-parsed) anguish. Maybe that barb will wear away, or break off under the skin and be healed over, digested, consumed into the corporeal mourner.

But how long will I miss my friend? That's not for anyone to say. For whatever span of time I'm given before someone - with some luck - will try to work out their feelings over my passing by penning something that's not quite a eulogy.

John seemed to have limitless patience for my monologuing. I like working things out through talking, finding the words before I'm convinced of their accuracy or sincerity, and he understood that. Appreciated the work, the process, and contributing to it.

Ironically, I always thought I was the patient half of our relationship. John had about a thousand peccadilloes related to daily life and his habits that ought to be adhered to when you were his guest; not to mention a way of speaking that began as ponderous and was only further slowed by his labored breathing. You never could be certain of the end...of a statement...of his. But now I look back and realize he had incredible patience, to listen to a young man (and eventual middle-aged boy) prattle on about subjects he'd been over a hundred thousand times already in the course of his long life.

When I met John, I was 25. Twenty-five-year-olds understand themselves to be so mature.

... time passes, as it has, and always will ...

I do not believe I have learned much in the intervening years. But I believe a huge portion of what little I have came - directly or indirectly - from knowing and loving my friend John.

At his memorial service - which we held on his birthday, months after John's death - the consensus on John was absolute. Only half of us had met before, yet we all were in agreement. No one there knew a different John. All the descriptions, stories, confounded experiences and symmetrical coincidences sprouting from his existence agreed. One of the things I'll always remember and aspire to about John was his honesty. It was hard-earned through his life, but earn it he did.

Be honest with yourself. I think getting one or two more people to that point is a legacy John would feel very good about indeed.

If I let go completely of trying, hard or otherwise, to eulogize John, what I get is this:
John, I really, really miss you. I wish we'd had more time, I'd made more time, I'd understood the end a bit better before it arrived. I got to tell you a lot that I loved you in your last couple of years, and I hope you know how much I meant and felt it when I did. I feel it now. That's the really shit thing about grief, John. That's what a ghost is.

Thank you. Love you.

P.S. - John had another, less-reputable legacy, which I'll aim to carry on in my own little way, like a god-awful torch of homonym:

The man himself.

As you know, Saint Patrick walked barefoot as an act of contrition, which made his feet rugged and blistered. He ate an ascetic’s diet, which made him weak and additionally gave him bad breath.
All of this made him...
A super-calloused fragile mystic, hexed by halitosis.