The loss of a friend

Last night I got a strange email from a tennis friend, simply saying to meet him at the club that that I had quit a year ago. He said it was important and gave no details.  I quit the club for many reasons, but one of them was because of a man who had a part time job there.  He was about my age, vintage 1940, who became an unlikely friend.  

Jon was a devout Catholic, Opus Dei variety which means condemning the debasement of tradition such as the modernization of the mass. His politics matched his faith, ultra conservative, meaning a staunch supporter of those such as Joe McCarthy, Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley. 

I am a left leaning secular Jew, yet we connected on many levels. You can tell a lot about someone when you play tennis with them.  Jon was always kind, not only to me but my wife who is not a strong player.  We used to have evening get togethers and he always made her feel welcome, even though she may have made more unforced errors than most.

And then we talked politics. He expanding my thinking, and there was a certain cordiality in interacting this this man, a throwback who didn't have a television, and actually read books.  He was born into an Irish household, and he told me how his father, a wealthy gambler, fell apart when his wife, Jon's mother, died at an early age. With less money they struggled to get by.

He once brought in a cassette tape from the station in L.A. where he was the D.J. of a Spanish Language program.  He was part of the tennis gambling crowd of the 50s and 60s, lead by Bobby Riggs, whom he would play on a regular basis, "always losing no matter how many games he spotted him" he said with a wry smile.

Jon downfall began out of an act of kindness.  A man who regularly visited an orphanage in Mexico asked him if there were any old clothes in the lost and found box.  Jon just grabbed the whole box and gave it to him.  A few days latter when it was discovered that he had included some clothing that was being asked about, and he admitted what he did; there was a clash of wills.  One person in accounting demanded that Jon apologize, but just hunkered down, and told her to "buzz off."  This escalated, and always a bit of a drinker, he became more antagonistic.

I was there the Saturday he came in pretty loaded, and boldly said that he wasn't going to be pushed around by anyone.  He said that he was going to quit, "the fucking job, and cursed out the owner whom he had known for decades, and who had kept him on even after such conflicts as this.  But this time he had gone to far.  I sat with him for a couple hours while he sobered up before I let him get into his car and drive home.

A few of us tried to keep in touch with him, having dinner at a pizza place once together.  But a new polite person was hired to take his place.  I quit and only dropped in occasionally as a guest, but I missed him, and the opportunity to just drop in when I had nothing to do and have a talk about religion, or politics, or history. 

The letter had just arrived a few days before:

I'm sad to say that Jon K___ took his life on the afternoon on November 19th 2010.  Jon came to stay a few days at our home, found a pistol that I kept in my bedroom and committed suicide.

It turns out that Jon had come into the club a few weeks prior asking for his old job back.  I knew what that job meant to Jon, as it was reflected in the pleasure that he got out of our companionship.  We both enjoyed each other, and when he was gone something was missing for me; but I had other options, other activities and other friends.  He was now indigent,  his pride and self respect being damaged beyond repair.

Life is amazingly fragile.  For Jon, the good life was being part of a tennis club, where he worked for probably less than minimum wage, but was in the center of things.  He made appointments, handled court allocation, and then filled in when we need a forth for doubles.  And he had his integrity, his belief in God and those who fought the scourge of liberalism in this great country.

I don't believe in a soul; but I do believe in a certain spark of humanity that has the quality of transcending all that divides us.  Jon never had any need to convince me of anything, nor did I of him.  When we discussed issues, there was an intimacy inherent in sharing such divergent views, disguised so no one but we could really discern what was happening. 

If he were around I would challenge him on one tenet of his church's teaching, that committing suicide is a mortal sin that deprives one of a heavenly after life.  I would argue that no God worthy of reverence would ever be so cruel as to punish someone for escaping unremitting suffering.  I don't think I would have convinced him, even though I know that I'm right.