time ago, in a place far away, but very near to my heart, Rusty
and I, and a gangly group of kids, shared a magical childhood.
My name is Carole.
not overly tall and still soft in that way that eleven-year-old
boys soon grow out of. Unruly red hair tops a perky face full
of freckles. His plaid shirt is buttoned all the way to the
top and he wears baggy wide-wale corduroys that are held up
by a swirly cowboy belt. We walk together down South U to Wikel’s
drug store on a crisp October afternoon in Ann Arbor, and Rusty
never stands still. He bobs and weaves around me, full of conversation
punctuated by the imagined Groucho Marx cigar that he holds
while raising his eye brows to emphasize his latest thought.
By all definitions, this is a kind of first “date.” Although
we have been friends since we were eight, his frequent blushes
tell me, even at eleven, that Rusty has a serious crush. He
pays the 50 cents for two cokes and we twirl round and round
on the red vinyl counter-stools while sipping through straws
from glasses that say “Coca Cola” proudly across the top. Then
he lays out his most prized possessions on the counter to show
me: his latest Detroit Tiger Baseball cards. He is a chatty
boy full of jokes, and laughter and songs. He is popular, and
loved by our small group at Angell Elementary. Although I did
not move from Ann Arbor for another five years, this is who
Rusty Magee remained for me for the next 35 years.
forward to New York City, one year ago, when I re-met a tall,
handsome Rusty with a chiseled face but the same winning smile.
I soon began my Tuesdays with Maury that were actually Tuesday,
Wednesday or Thursday with Rusty depending on this dying man’s
very busy schedule. For the next year, once a week, I spent
several hours with Rusty. Early on we would meet for coffee
or lunch to catch up on the 30 years of eachother’s lives that
we had missed. Later, we met at his apartment. We listened to
music, reminisced about grade school and junior high, looked
at old photos, talked about life and sometimes on painful days,
just held hands and watched the light move across his bedroom
day I ask myself why I was given this odd intermezzo in life
this strange one year odyssey with Rusty that became my search
for his essence. I know that the full magnitude of Rusty’s impact
on my life has yet to be completely revealed. This seems part
of his mystery. But right now, I know with great certainty that
during this strange and beautiful year I learned a few gentle
but important lessons from Rusty. I want to believe that Rusty
learned from me too.
in-between my constant mental musings and judgments about Rusty’s
adult life, I learned about making choices. Choices about how
to live, and how to die. Rusty’s choice, always, no matter how
dramatic the medical moment, or serious the consequences, was
to choose optimism. I learned that no matter what we do in life,
we make a choice, and that in the long run, finding the one
good thing in every story or friend, every piece of bad news
living life from a glass half-full, is a constant challenge,
and a better choice for living, as well as dying.
about friendship. If a man dies with hundreds of friends, no
matter what else his professional talents and accomplishments,
hasn’t he created the ultimate success? Rusty was the glue that
held dozens of grade school, boarding school, prep-school, college,
young adult, young married and new friendships, together. How
did he do this? What did he exude that turned into this glue?
How did he leave so many of us feeling that we were so special,
such a unique friend to him? I believe that it was a full and
open heart -- An open-ness, an eagerness to share his life
the good parts and the bad. He was a spirit who was always willing
to say “I need you.” Rusty had a willingness to regularly provide
unconditional love at every opportunity, even when he didn’t
about compassion from Rusty. He forced me-- actually corrected
me on several occasions -- to understand that every man who
loses his job, every woman who bears worries for her child,
every lonely girl, struggling artist, parent, wife, husband,
child, every person fighting illness, death, loss, even cancer—each
one of us bears burdens at times in our life, that are of equal
pain at the time in which we endure them. He did not believe
that his fears, his pain, his fight with illness, was more worrisome,
more painful, more important than my tiresome mid-life crisis.
Rusty knew that when we are in emotional pain it is the same
and we all require compassion from one another in order to survive
for now, Rusty taught me about the importance of staying young.
In all our serious moments this past year….through new medical
contraptions, humiliating daily procedures, continual losses
of mini-battles, even through his telephone that never stopped
ringing —Rusty never once stopped being that eleven year old
red-headed boy who knew how to tell a joke, how to laugh, how
to share what was in his heart tears and joy -- and how to
sing. For me, our very short one-year reunion, provided a lifetime
of learning to live up to. But that of course, would be how
Rusty Magee would want to leave it with a kiss and a gift
to us all of simply having been here.
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