My friend and client, Juan, went on a holiday a couple of months ago. Juan’s from a small town in the Pyrenees, just outside of Barcelona, and he was going back home with his wife and kids for a two-week vacation. Unfortunately, it turned out to only be a one-week vacation because his company’s international marketing meeting was held in Barcelona during his break and he felt duty-bound to attend.
Of course I could empathize. When Gloria and I got married, we didn’t go on a honeymoon because I had some client emergency or other and had to cancel our trip so I could deal with it. But here’s the funny part: 27 years later, we still remember that we didn’t go on a honeymoon but we can’t remember what it was that was so damn important at the time. And even though we have worked with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau for going on 20 years now, we don’t have any 26-year old client relationships so whoever it was isn’t with us anymore regardless of what sacrifice we made for them.
What was so damn important anyway?
The past few weeks have been dark ones where I’ve attended a number of funerals, including one for my longest running friend, Alan Somerstein. Alan’s mom and my mom met in the maternity ward at Mt. Sinai Hospital on Miami Beach and he and I were lifelong friends after that. Alan and I were born five days apart and we used to tell people that we were twins. If they asked who was the older twin, I’d proudly answer “Me.” If they asked how far apart we were born, Alan would say “Five days.” Then we’d walk away giggling while they scratched their heads and tried to figure it out.
Alan and I were roommates for a couple of years after graduation and stayed in touch after we both had gotten married and started raising kids. And even though Alan was a rabid sports fan and I never even know what type of game people are talking about, we always found things to chat about.
At most funerals, people go on and on about how nice the recently deceased was, even though they often weren’t. But Alan was. Alan was easily the nicest person on the planet.
At Alan’s funeral, the speakers all talked about how much we loved him. We told stories about Alan’s life and how he made us smile. And his daughter Lindsey made us cry with her poignant words of love and loss.
But no one talked about how much money Alan made, how big his house was or what kind of car he drove. Not because he wasn’t successful — Alan was the leading salesperson at his company every single year, even after he got sick and had to cut his hours way back — but because those things no longer seemed to matter. Still, like the honeymoon I never went on and the family vacation that Juan cut short in Spain, those are the things we worry about every day.
The stories that made us laugh through our tears were the stories of the kind words Alan had for everyone, his concern for their well-being, and the funny things he did and said in his life.
In his beautifully crafted The New York Times article, You Are Going To Die, Tim Kreider writes, “You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.”
As Erma Bombeck wrote in her 1979 book Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream, “If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television… and more while watching real life. But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it… look at it and really see it… try it on… live it… exhaust it… and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”
Alan did just that. And I hope I’m halfway smart enough to learn that from him. After all, what was so damn important anyway?