It’s a rare quality for someone to have, but he had it: He was everyone’s best friend. The image of a diamond with many sparkling facets comes to my mind; each facet containing a need to be met, a need in others to meet, and a quality to be expressed. Every one of his relationships was unique; all were special, and his interests and talents were vast.
A brainiac who loved to work hard and get dirty, he generously volunteered his time wherever he was needed. He made manuals and videos of all his creations and experiments as if these would somehow unlock the door to our understanding of how they worked or, at the very least, show us the correct way to repair them. Ha.
He was a seeker of truth. As a Buddhist, he explored the depths of the nature of all phenomena. Spending a day with a friend solving math problems worked for him. He took dance classes with friends and learned to tango and do the salsa. He loved dressing up in costumes and was a flamboyant showman. Once an aspiring gymnast, he did his turn as a street juggler while getting his doctorate in physics.
He was also a first responder – bag in hand – proactive, ready to leap wherever there was a need. You could count on him to take you to the doctor and take care of you when you were sick. His heart and generosity were enormous and legendary, and he seemed happiest when he was helping others.
He was free with his compliments; you felt attractive around him. He had a way of being with you that left you feeling certain that YOU were his best friend. And in that moment, you were. He showed up. You were seen and heard and never judged. And right there is where the magic happened. He could look beyond our stories and confusion and reflect back a greater truth – that underneath all the messiness we were absolutely perfect, just as we were. He was a rock; you were safe with him. No wonder we are mourning our loss of this man so deeply.
A friend and I traveled to his memorial in Southern California last weekend. We met his colleagues and friends from his life as a professional scientist. They were, and are, the brightest and the best. Their stories from those days revealed that their love and reverence for him had never diminished. We had known that he was a pretty smart guy, but we learned from them that he was absolutely brilliant. Who knew; he was always so humble. Only once did I hear him allude to his intellectual capacity. One day he said to me, shaking his head after a particularly frustrating day with his high school students, “They have absolutely no idea who they have here. If they were a swim team, I am like an Olympic coach.”
The world has lost a loving giant and we weep. But he left us bigger, because, for a brief time, we got to borrow him and stand in the light of his grace.