Loss, it seems, comes in waves. This past year and a half, with a half a million Americans succumbing to COVID alone, was a bit more like a tidal or rogue wave than the random waves of loss that normally accompany our precious lives.
Stan Goldstein was an avid reader of this blog. When he died I lost a brilliant, loyal, quirky friend, who managed to find time to bake, package and deliver home-made almond roca every Christmas. I wrote a blog post or two about him—he was the guy who wrote the word “stoichiometry” on a piece of paper after I tried to understand why the Cessna 150’s Continental engine gave out on me while I was flying over the mountains. His life had its share of adversity, his estranged ex-wife and daughter having “pre-deceased” him, his daughter by suicide some years back. Stan played poker with me every month for many years. He could be acerbic and just as quickly kind and compassionate, and if he could do anything to help you he would.
His heart was never quite the picture of health, and he reminded me periodically how he had died more than once on the operating table and had to be resuscitated. He was an avid Scientologist, which always made for good conversation. As a younger man, he raced cars and even held a record at some Southern California raceway. He was born into a Jewish family, the son of a delicatessen owner. His father kept in the local Mafia’s favor by storing their cash for them in his freezer. When asked if he had experienced anti-Semitism as a racecar driver, he responded “Are you kidding me? All the time.” He recounted the many times he was sabotaged while racing, certain it was due to the “Goldstein” on the side of his car. He was sincere to the point of admitting the truth of the accusations made against his adopted church, and he did not whitewash them. He died in the midst of the COVID epidemic, but not due to COVID. His heart eventually gave out on him.
Another Stan who I knew and worked with for nearly a decade did die from COVID. I hired Stan Pavey to become the training director at a clinic where I worked in Glendale as the clinical director. He was a highly respected and well-loved professor at California School of Professional Psychology, who had a thick crop of silver hair and a warm and engaging smile. He was soft-spoken, whip smart and avuncular. He was one of those people with whom everyone felt comfortable, and who treated everyone with the same level of interest and respect.
Stan’s health had not been good leading up to COVID, and apparently—despite his ever-youthful appearance, he couldn’t fight it off. He never married, but each time I bumped into him at some LA restaurant, which was oddly often, he was seated with a different, younger woman, many of whom I learned were lifelong friends.
It’s been a rough couple of years. As I write this now, I learned last night of the death of Bob Mann, a social worker with whom I had been close during our years working together at the San Fernando Child Guidance Clinic in Northridge, California. Though we had barely kept in touch in the ensuing years, Bob was more than an extraordinary presence. Kind-hearted, soft and loving, yet never too shy about reminding me that I always pronounced “Asperger” incorrectly. He was one of the few people I knew who wasn’t afraid of using his vast vocabulary. He and I would walk the halls of the clinic punning to each other under our breaths, and he was kind enough to offer an occasional chuckle when I attempted to say something funny. No one who ever met Bob could say they were not in the presence of a uniquely brilliant, charming, kind human being. He died from the ravages of prostate cancer.
Words certainly seem empty in the face of the ultimate mystery. I suppose that it’s the pain of loss that gives life its value– or not. There’s no salve for me believing in any of the myths the various religions provide, only degrees of discomfort with the unknown. All we really have, I suppose, are brief moments of interest, laughter, sadness, fleeting moments of connection. Each of us singular flowers, blessed, occasionally, by the visit of a hummingbird.