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What does it mean to be a man? It occurred to me this morning that my friend Earl is the epitome of what we want in a man, what we should expect from a man, and I’m proud and honored that he is my friend.
I’ve written about Earl before on Ricochet. He is a tall, lean black man, a Progressive and one of the kindest and most self-reflective persons I know. He is also 86 years old, declining from a multitude of health conditions including early Alzheimer’s. He loves to discuss ideas and ask deep questions; I would often ask him what he thought the answers were to his questions, because I knew at some level he had his own heartfelt, often profound answers.
Last year I disbanded our meditation group; I decided to continue meeting with Earl who attended regularly and was our timekeeper. (In referring to our walking meditation period, he asked once where else he could go and have nine lovely ladies following right after him. That’s Earl.)
When the meditation group ended, Earl and I decided to meet on Monday mornings, first meditating for a period and then having an ongoing discussion on a book by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart.
At first, we continued to meet at my house, but then Earl had a “heart event,” which I assume is something like a heart attack, but the doctors aren’t sure. It was a health setback for Earl, and rather than discontinue our meetings, I suggested I go to his home. Meanwhile, another person who was fond of Earl and liked meditating with others was delighted when I invited her to join us.
This morning Earl was looking well and yet very frail. He insisted on answering the door himself without his walker, and when he opened the door he looked cheerful; on the walk back to the sofa, he was steady. After we sat down, I asked how he was, and he rolled his eyes, saying, “Oh, the usual…” clearly avoiding the topic. I think he gets tired of running through all the latest diagnoses, although he almost always mentions the Alzheimer’s. Even though he’s still coherent, the future outcome of losing his mind is (understandably) frightening and disturbing.
Earl is a man who has always relied on his intellect, and it’s served him well. Early on he was trained in clinical psychology, monitored lie detector tests, was a New York cop, and eventually became a defense lawyer. You don’t want to know some of the stories he’s told me about his clients. For years, he talked about retiring and finally at 84, he turned his practice over to his partner. I think he was tired, seeing the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and beginning to look more closely at his career decisions to defend criminals.
This morning, it was just Earl and me. (Our other friend was home with a cold).
We sat quietly in meditation for 20 minutes and then turned to the book to review the section we’d chosen. We’re still early in the book where Pema Chodron is in a life crisis due to a change in her life and work situation. Her world is caving in around her, and she doesn’t know (at that moment) what to do. I think Earl can identify with her. More and more, as we’ve discussed the book, Earl’s remarks are less cerebral and more personal. We can all relate to a time in our lives when life seems to be falling apart, and the initial options for action seem limited.
When our time was up, we chose the next section of the book to study. Earl spoke with his deep, resonant voice and said what he says every time we meet: “You know, there is nowhere else I can have these discussions. People would think it’s not normal.” I replied with mocking objection, “Are you saying I’m not normal?!” Earl shook his head and said, “Thank goodness you’re not.” I always remind him, too, that our discussions are a blessing for me, too.
He walked me to the door, slowly and carefully, ever polite and gracious, not a sexist bone in his body, and he could care less that I’m white.
He’s taught me a great deal about courage and acceptance.
I look forward to our next Monday meeting.Published in