My primo pal Joe is trying to leave the coffeeshop, but I am blocking the door, I won’t let him go. We’ve already shared a deep hug, a bran muffin and a crack chat about love and death, much of which I plan to use in the sprawling story I’ve been writing this past year about my coven of wise, old guys; but given that he had just told me he is –ready to go anytime- my voice raises an octave and I ask:

What am I going to do when you die?

He throws his head back and laughs.

This self-dubbed average Joe, so remarkably zen and brilliantly young at heart is always cracking up. Or smiling; enjoying every moment, every day, no matter what. Trust me, I try to poke holes in his happiness and never spring a leak. Joe avoids the futility of neurosis and the vanity of self-torture by accepting his humanity, moment by moment, warts and all, as unreservedly and wholeheartedly as he accepts mine. It’s freaking hard to let go of our egos and the stories we tell ourselves, but this nondescript every-person does.

Joe likes to say we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Perfect the way we are.

He smiles at me barricading the coffeeshop door.

I will always be with you, he says. So, celebrate my death. Kick up your heels, my dear, have some fun!

Never one to forego a dance floor, I stop all grasping and laugh. Who could resist the freedom he offers? Who could defy those twinkling blue eyes? He makes me and no doubt the legions of people who love him feel that no matter what the shit-storm, in our souls, everything is wonderful. Everything is love.

I move away from the door and let him go.

Days later, I walk into the coffeeshop and when I pass by the counter, the owner who dearly loves Joe, tells me he is dead. He was driving alone on the highway on New Years’ Day, pulled off to the side of the road, had a massive heart attack, and that, my dear people, was that. No muss, no fuss, just like the man.

All is well, he says.

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Joe doesn’t want you to see him because he says he doesn’t matter, but he did allow me to show his hugs, and after a little coercing, his beautiful, rained-splattered eyes.

So much love to his family and huge circle of friends as we remember him with gratitude and adapt to our loss. 

For more stories about Joe and the coffeeshop, click here.

For more stories about my old men, click Senior High, Puppy Love, My Father Died, A Family TreeStay Calm and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Vote.

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