"When I come back, I'll roll around in it." That's what Greg wrote to me from Ghana in 2003, speaking of our lush green suburban lawn, such a far cry from the dusty sandlots of Accra.
And I so wanted him to do so. But dragging a cosmopolitan like Greg from one of his cities -- London, New York, Toronto, Accra, Doha -- was like pulling a tooth from a healthy person. I knew he wanted to come up this way, but I also knew he couldn't. He was of Brooklyn. Once you move out of that environment, you see how hard it is to entice someone from the city north, especially someone without a car.
And so we didn't overlap as we once did. Even in New York, it was hard for the metropolitan woman who shared my apartment and me to meet up with our friends. We lived in Rego Park, they lived in Williamsburg and Prospect Heights. On occasion after the Lad was born we would eat bagels and drink mimosas, talk about politics, watch the marathon go by. We still felt mobile, they still seemed like our circle. But we moved, and our contact became sporadic, thrice-yearly. Nevertheless, even without direct replacement in our new geographic lives, these earlier ties remained just as important.
And then, this. Our dear Greg -- he who trod lightest upon the social circle, being somehow central to it but seeming least invested -- has left us. Pneumonia followed by sepsis followed by complications, and after thirteen days of valiant battle, Greg moved on. Irreligious and unapologetic, Greg had other plans for death, it's fair to say. He lived well, and savored, and immersed himself -- especially in music -- and was too young to ship.
The other day, when things looked particularly bad for Greg, I stepped out of my office in its office park and stood by the trunk of a willow that leaned far out over a constructed streamlet. This tree is older than the buildings, I think, with its thickset trunk and myriad branches. As I stared, it transformed into a lung. Its trunk drew sustenance from the earth and spread it into the leaves. Sure, maybe I had it backwards -- the leafy tendrils drew in carbon dioxide and transferred it to the wood, and my forced parallel to Greg's condition was just that. However, I took a few deep breaths and thought of my breath entering Greg's lungs, and I thanked the tree for its gift of oxygen. Connection of any sort, a tether in unmoored times.
In the past two weeks I've seen an outpouring of love and goodwill that tells me something: Greg made this. As a volunteer, coordinator, consultant, Greg's metier has been to give people a small gift of light, whether they be schoolchildren struggling to enter the modern capitalist consumer society, or victims of its worst excesses. Charm, erudition, wit, arty glasses -- Greg was someone to whom you wished to be close. By his very life itself, Greg created this outpouring of love, which only seems sudden in light of his death. It was there, a constant, during his life, even, and especially, toward the end. But there from the beginning, else the end could not have happened as it did.
Greg left us surrounded by love, borne someplace on love's cushion, drawing love forth from his friends and family, generating a gigantic gyre of loving feeling and goodwill from around the world, a violent light of love calling him to health and recovery but acknowledging the possibility of his passing, and celebrating all with equal recognition of his life. Greg is gone, but that love can only be spent among we who remain. I'm pouring forth my share to all who hear me.
Today the crocuses and hostas are pushing up. The daffodils are starting their green rise. The air is warm, the sky that particular shade of spring blue. And the grass, the grass is greening. It misses Greg, the grass does, and calls out for the shape of him to mold its contours and to lie briefly remembered in its embrace.
As he lies in ours, remembered, loved, always.