Saturday, April 5, 2008

RIP, Greg Sewell

"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.



















20 comments:

Antonia said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Bill. Not just yours, but that of everyone who knew this lovely man. This is an incredibly beautiful post you've written about him, and I imagine he more than deserved every word.

Susan said...

Holy crap. I had no idea. I knew Greg a little -- actually, the last time I saw him was at your "Farewell to NYC" party. This is so freakin' sad. Your post was beautiful.

Childsplayx2 said...

I didn't know Greg but your post makes me feel as if I did.

My heart goes out to you in your loss of a friend.

Alice Q. said...

So sorry for your loss - and thank you for sharing your feelings for your friend. It's a reminder to the rest of us to cherish what we have.

Max said...

Thank you Bill. It's wonderful to see it written out. It really is true: the world Greg envisioned came to be: one based on love, decency and the support of your fellow.

The horrible hole left by Greg is just as big as all the joy he made in his whole life. If this pain is the price of living in this good world forged, as you say, so lightly by our Greg then I am honored to pay it.

wcs said...

He was a lucky man to have had such friends.

Heartfelt condolences from a stranger.

Molly said...

That was lovely, Bill. Thank you.

Archguy said...

I'm sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful man. I wish I had known him.
DLL

Kyran said...

a beautiful meditation on an incomprehensible mystery. thinking of you and all your overlapping circles this week.

fivetonsflax said...

I knew Greg slightly and thought he was a sweet guy. Your post makes me feel like I knew him a little better, and makes me wish I knew him *much* better. I'm sorry for your loss, and for others who were close to Greg.

Primer said...

Peace be with you and your loved ones.

Jimin said...

Bill, this came as such a sad surprise. I went to highschool with Greg in Brampton, Ontario.

Your tribute is beautiful .

Thank you for the picture, it made me smile. He looks like he did in highschool

Jimin

Jimin said...

Bill, I went to highschool with Greg- St. Thomas Aquinas in Brampton, Ontario. I am very sad. Thank you for your words, they are beautiful. Thank you for the picture, it made me smile, he still looks the same.

Misha said...

That was so lovely, Bill. Thank you.

Excellent Walker said...

Hi Bill. I am googling Greg right now, hoping to find... something. Thanks for posting this.

Claudia in Toronto said...

Thank you for telling us so movingly about the life of your extraordinary friend. The world has been enriched by his presence. My deep sympathy to you, and family, for the tragic loss.

csb said...

Bill, I'm Greg's sister-in-law, wife of Greg's brother Phil. Would you mind if I copied (and credited) this post to Greg's memorial blog?

We are all craving stories about him, we miss him so much.

Many thanks for such a tribute.

Carrie

Bill Braine said...

Of course, Carrie. All, the blog is located here.

Suzanne said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Bill. What a beautiful post. A lovely, poetic tribute.

Amy H said...

You made me cry, and I didn't even know Greg. Beautiful tribute, Bill.