This morning when I left my apartment, I saw a washer, dryer, stove and fridge sitting in the hall outside my neighbor, John’s, unit. I noticed, too, in looking out the hall window, that the blinds were drawn all the way up, and his place seemed empty. I was surprised he hadn’t said goodbye.
Although we were more friendly acquaintances than friends, I liked John and we would always stop and speak when we met. He was a brash New Yorker, with opinions he was willing to share. One more of the many and varied characters who inhabit our community. Part of our little world.
I was on my way to my local coffee shop, and outside on the sidewalk I encountered another of our residents, Bob. I asked him if he’d seen John lately, because I knew they were on friendly terms. He paused for a moment and then told me that John was dead. He had to say it twice, because I thought I’d misheard him. I was sure he’d meant to say away, not dead. Death is so final, so hard to take in and frequently so unexpected.
Bob said that a woman with whom John had been working had been trying to reach him by phone. Finally, concerned that he was not answering her calls or returning them, she contacted someone in, I believe it was Portland’s Human Services Department. They could not reach him either, so they contacted building management. When they found him, he was dead, and it’s estimated that he had died about five days before.
That made me feel so sad, to know that he had died alone. That he’d been lying there, mere yards away, with no one to know or tend to him. I don’t know the cause of death, but I believe it must have been very sudden, so that he had no chance to call for help. All in all, a swift and merciful death, it would seem, as I would fervently wish for myself when my time comes.
When I got home, I called several of my friends who had known him, too, and each of them expressed sadness and regret and had something kind to say of him. I will close by saying that I liked John. He was lively and opinionated, always willing to stop and say hello, and we will all miss him.
It made me think of John Donne’s famous words, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.“
Today, John, it tolls for thee. Rest in sweet peace.