There was a time years ago when my wife made a peculiar observation about me. I was in the midst of blathering on about a venerable friend of mine when she said, rather abruptly, “You know, you collect old guys.”
I stopped yapping and thought about it for a moment. It was kind of true. I seemed to have a number of friends and associates who were several decades my senior. Most of them I’d met through professional encounters, and the bonds spilled over into personal friendships.
When I look back on this assorted gaggle of older friends, I realize I didn’t consciously “collect” them, like one might collect stamps, coins or baseball cards. I happened to meet all of these guys at different stages of my life, and we just clicked.
Besides being older than me, these men tended to have other things in common. Of course, they were much more worldly and wise than me. As someone who lost his father at a relatively young age, these men filled a void for me. They’d graduated from — as my dad used to say — the “College of Hard Knocks” and were generous in dispensing their knowledge and worldviews.
For instance, one of these gentlemen was a survivor of several Nazi death camps. We spent many hours talking about what he endured. He’d seen the absolute worst in human beings. But one day, I asked him if he ever found himself getting angry or irritated about the little, petty things in life, like not being able to find keys or getting cut off by an idiot on the road.
“Of course, I’m still a person,” he snapped. “Yes, I’ve seen horrible, indescribable evil, but I still get mad at the little stuff.”
Another one of my old guys, a veteran of World War II and Korea, used to talk about dealing with rampant racism and getting into scrapes while in the service. One time, he brought into the office an old photo of himself from his Army days.
“You see that guy there,” he said, pointing at the picture. “He was a very angry youngster, mad at the entire world.” But then he found something that transformed him into the sweet, avuncular man I knew and loved — old-time religion. He was a deacon at his church (and not shy about breaking into a hymn whenever the spirit moved him).
All of these guys had another thing in common. No matter how many times they got beat up by the world, they loved people. In particular, they loved their families and friends, and they were all absolutely crazy about their significant others or “better halves.” They couldn’t hide it, and unfortunately I saw how utterly devastated some of these guys were after losing their wives.
I’ll never forget running into my old Yiddish teacher, the wonderful Dr. Solomon Manischewitz, at the grocery store only a few months after the passing of his beloved wife, Sara. His kind, disarming smile couldn’t mask his deep, unrelenting sorrow.
“Even after all that I’ve been through in my life,” he said in his thick Polish accent, “nothing compares to this. Nothing.”
These guys are all gone now, but their love for their community, families and friends is their legacy. And with this “Love Issue” in your hands, we remember them for their greatest blessing and gift — their love.
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief
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