The meaning of life

Damned if I know. That’s kind of the point, is it not?
I got an e-mail from Randy earlier in the week, to tell me some dreadful news about someone we both knew from our work lives. As coincidence would have it, Norman was someone I had met in the job I managed to secure in White Plains, New York shortly after September 11th (I lost my previous job because of the proximity of that office to the WTC site, i.e. one block North of what is now the north side of “Ground Zero”). Norman was often kind enough to drive me back into the City, sometimes all the way home; later on, Norman and Randy ended up working in the same law firm, and I worked in another office in the same building in lower Manhattan.
Any way, Norman was a rare individual, as Randy points out, an attorney about whom no one ever had anything bad to say. I will go still further and say that he was a man devoid of pretentions, as authentic a human being as I have encountered. A man who simply saw life for what it was, who lived in the here and now. A man capable of fully experiencing the full panoply of human feelings from top to bottom, with the full intensity of someone who feels them uncontaminated by pretention.
During the all too short time I knew him, he found the love of his life, and then, as his young son was born a few months ago, the happiest moment of his life, only to be diagnosed with terminal cancer almost immediately thereafter, leaving both wife and infant child behind, leaving us at only 44. Is any of this fair? As Randy told me after the funeral this morning, fair is just not a concept which with this universe is familiar.
The friendships I have made and retained in my adult life as a result of working have, invariably, been from my “shorter stays,” those positions which, for a variety of reasons, I could not stay in very long, and were often marked by turbulence of some kind. (Most of the other friendshiips I have made have been from blogging– which in many ways, are not dissimilar.) Maybe it’s a “war-buddies” kind of thing. Who the hell knows? Anyway, Norman was of that character: the kind of man you wished had your back in a foxhole if it ever came to that. In the case of my eight months or so in White Plains, I had quite literally signed on as a temp, and though I later became a “full-timer”, the often two-plus hour commute each day was becoming maddening (even with Norman often driving me back to Manhattan) and I left to take a job in the City.
Regular readers know that my signature first question in interviews concerns where the subject was on September 11th. It took me until this morning to realize why this question seems so important to me. During my talks with Norman as he wouuld drive me down the FDR, sometimes past Lower Manhattan, we would often talk about those strange events that threw us all together. As of this moment, my recollection (perhaps faulty) is that Norman himself was up in White Plains, with the other lawyers and staff at the law firm there, while in his own mind he realized that two of his dear friends worked in the WTC. “Oh my God, Terence and Joanne are dead.” Simple, to the point. As real as it gets.
Sadly, his friend Joanne had indeed died that day. His friend Terence was one of the readers at Norman’s funeral today. There, the priest pointed out the mystery of it all… why are some of us blessed with long lives, and others not? In Norman’s case, the time he had here was honorable. The highest praise one can give, in my book. Still… why didn’t this man get more time here, to see his young family grow if nothing else? Why?
Damned if I know. Just damned if I know.