Why David, Why?
All of us have days we would rather forget.
Some have more difficulty than others forgetting.
Time moves forward inexorably, but our minds remain stuck, like the hands of a broken clock. Putting a bad experience or thought behind us – it’s not so easy for everyone.
Eventually, most of us shake the dust off of heartache and disappointment and move on. But then one day you move into a new house, and begin sorting through things, trying to get everything organized in your new space.
And as you go through a file folder … Boom! There it is!
A yellowed newspaper article about your friend David. In a snap, you are taken back 30 years to a day in which the hands of your clock remain frozen. Such clarity, it could have happened yesterday.
The day you heard about David’s suicide.
And the day you were with him, earlier that week.
When I left the downtown Philadelphia antipoverty agency after 10 years and opened my private practice in the suburbs, I was greeted with a measure of cautious skepticism from my peers. A consequence of the great territorial divide – the fear of suburban lawyers that their city brethren would be moving into adjacent counties, taking away clients and making their practices even more competitive.
I was the upstart, hotshot lawyer from Philadelphia embarking on their territory, seemingly oblivious as to how differently things were handled in outlying counties. The cityscape was driven by frenetic power; it was far more simpatico in the suburbs.
It took a couple of years before I was accepted into the suburban brotherhood, as one of their own; however, one accepted me right away – David.
What can I tell you about him? David seemed to enjoy the proverbial good life. A beautiful and powerful wife who was a successful RE mover and shaker. Their children were wonderful. David was a legendary basketball star in high school – still ruggedly handsome into his 50’s.
But life took its pound of flesh from David’s body, necessitating hip surgeries, and recurring rehab. It was demoralizing for someone so physically gifted to walk with limp, supported with a cane. But David soldiered on with a smile and a wink.
Several days before I read that shocking newspaper article, David and I were on opposite sides of a case and had a conference in the presiding judge’s chambers to see whether we could hammer out an agreement before it went to trial.
Without getting technical, all I can say about that conference is this – David talked gibberish. The few things he said didn’t make much sense. He struggled to answer when the judge asked him specific questions.
With side glances, Judge Luongo, a no-nonsense taskmaster, looked at me quizzically, as if to confirm what he was thinking – that this intelligent lawyer was there in body, but not in spirit.
With less than subtle raised eyebrows, I let the judge know – I’m with you. I have no idea what the bleep he’s talking about. Judge Luongo quickly ended the conference, admonishing us to continue negotiations.
Afterward, in the hallway, I took David aside. Head to head we huddled, as old friends do. “Are you OK?,” I asked pointedly. “Some things you said in there … it’s not what we discussed the other day.” David brushed-off the question as it was a ridiculous thing to ask. Said he was fine. We would talk more about the case later.
And with that, David walked away …
Out of my life forever.
With the suicide of a friend, most of us ask the same questions. Why? Why did someone so loved and gifted do that? And angrily – why did he go to the basement with a shotgun and leave a horrific mess for his daughter to discover when she got home?
We wonder whether we should have seen it coming – whether we could have done more. Why didn’t I follow-up afterward to see if David was OK? I don’t remember. Other cases and clients probably got in the way. Very likely, I thought David was just having a bad day. Nothing serious.
Friends, we are in the midst of a historic and impossibly difficult era. People are hurting – in every way possible. Physically, emotionally and financially.
Despite the restrictions imposed by social distancing, it behooves all of us to be aware of everyone around us. Our friends, families and acquaintances. It’s difficult to anticipate something as dramatic as David’s final days – but regardless, we need to stay in touch.
Check up on your loved ones. Tell them you are concerned. Let them know they aren’t alone. So many things today are outside our control – there’s nothing wrong being confused by it all.
Social distancing mandates that we give everyone space. Love demands that we reach out and support others who are less fortunate and hurting. There are agencies and counselors who offer services based on need.
Don’t hesitate to tell friends and neighbors you care. Call people and check up on them – ask them pointedly how they’re doing.
Love isn’t merely an emotion – it’s rooted in deeds and action. You may not be able to solve all the problems of an upside-down world, but sometimes it’s enough just to say you care.
In his epistle, the Apostle James admonishes us: “Faith without works is dead.”
So is love.
R Michael Owens is a retired Philadelphia lawyer. He invites your comments. Rmykl@yahoo.com