We were once lovers. We could have married and built a family, but we didn’t. He wanted to; I thought it wouldn’t work. Still, he was someone I cared about and who cared about me.

He died unexpectedly last week.

One of the nicest men I ever dated: a sweet and soft-hearted guy. That’s not to say he was a pushover. No, not a pushover. It’s something I find out pretty early in a relationship because I am, after all, who I am.

But this is about him.

Or is it?

He had a big presence in his community; everyone knew him. Some pretty major accomplishments under his belt, too. Have you ever been to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.? He was its chief marketing strategist, largely responsible for securing the tens of millions it took to get it built. $110 million, to be exact and that ain’t hay.

It was sudden, his death. Unexpected. It took everyone in his sphere by surprise, including me.  On Facebook, there was an outpouring of love, affection, tributes and yes, shock. Every day I’d check to see who said what about this man and what I might learn from it. I’d puzzle over this untimely passing, replaying our last conversation in November.

And then, a week later, after the announcement of the memorial service, his page went silent. Quiet. Nothing. No more comments. No more thoughts and prayers. Nothing.

Everyone, it seemed, had gone back to their lives. He was a memory, now. Just a memory. Maybe not forgotten. But part of the past.

A Go Fund Me went up to help with final expenses. Two days later it stood at $75.  For.a man who had raised tens of millions for his community.

I knew hard times had befallen him this past year because he called me to talk about it. Health issues. Career issues. Money issues.

I had to wonder how many of these big players in his community saw his struggle and had stepped up.  Offered some work. Extended a hand. None, I would guess.

And even now, they were back to their lives, business as usual.

Not me, though. I wasn’t back to business at all. I couldn’t stop thinking about the loss of this man, not even 65 years old yet. How he had given his heart and soul for so many and gotten back so little. How only two people offered a few bucks toward his final expenses.

And I wondered about what it all meant, this life of ours. Here today, gone tomorrow. In an instant, he ceased to exist physically and perhaps in the minds of some of the men he considered friends and colleagues. Poof. Gone.

I looked at the Go Fund Me a few times. I have given to more than a few over the years, but I didn’t give to this one. He is gone. My chance to really help  passed with him.

Then I wondered how that made me any different from all those others in his life who failed to step up, either before or after his death.

Of course, it wasn’t really true that I didn’t help at all. I did. I didn’t send him a check, but I had a very long conversation with him full of ways he could gin up quick consulting work among his friends and colleagues.

Those same ones who are so quiet now.

While I was in Sedona, I talked to a good friend about it. She brought up the value  of teaching someone to fish, rather than feeding them. I got that.

And yet, I felt I could have done more. Could I have? Should I have?

I had a text exchange about this with a dear sister-friend who knew him, knew us and knew the situation because I’d confided it to her months ago. I told her how disquieted I felt about it all.

“It’s always hard to know what the right thing to do is,” I texted.

She wrote back, “Your heart is so tender and when you care someone it is real–sending you a hug.”

True and true.

And yet this whole thing has left me unsettled to a surprising degree.

I have regrets I didn’t step up, because I could have. And yet, I think, “It’s complicated.”

But as I look at it now, I ask myself, “was it as complicated as I worried it was?”

A friend was in need, that was the bottom line.

If we’re awake and aware we learn from everything in life. And for me, this was a big lesson and a painful one.

If you have any words of wisdom or even thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them.



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