Life minus Ralph will be a deep personal loss. He was my telephone mate. I celebrate that man I got to know particularly over this past year or two when we didn’t see much of each other but spoke regularly. I know he could be impatient and ill-tempered at times but the man I knew was his best version.
We would talk on the phone sometimes 4-5 times a week for half an hour or more, usually about nothing and everything. I was going to call him Monday afternoon when I got the shocking news of his death. I was about to tell him that he shared a birthday with Oliver Sacks. Now, like that other Oliver I want to say, Please Sir (Ralph), I want some more.
Though it happens spontaneously there is a certain art to conversation. It can be a creative act when the people are in resonance. Words flow and each sentence segues to the next…sometimes a leap across time and space. It’s a wondrous thing. And when it occurs you may look back and think, What just happened here?
How we got from A to Z is untraceable. One word reminded us of another word or a phrase and off we’d go talking from medical matters to baseball to Winston Churchill to some Labor-Zionist song of his to a shard in his memory vault playing the sousaphone in a marching band with frozen lips, to concerns about Judy, to an old movie, or a Yiddish expression, to an opera diva he watched from his chair-bed at 4 AM to the making of an ultimate martini, to money woes and we’d end either commiserating, laughing or both. And after all the verbiage there was something else, unsaid but understood.
In the course of all this zig-zag we had tapped into each other’s better angels, a room in the mansion seldom opened where we had a sort of brotherly affection and the words to express this love.
If this was an improvisational dance we also accepted that we had a major disagreement which required a choreography carefully avoiding the land mine that would have brought pistols at dawn. In a certain way this made our friendship even greater for what we valued as
higher than those hot spots.
We all have our stories to tell, part actual, part imagined or at least embellished. Pebbles underfoot, the polishing of years, make jewels of. Sandy Koufax said it best, “The older I get the better I used to be.” So I lent Ralph my ear and he lent me his. Our narratives are finally all of what we own and in the telling we discover who we are and how we matter.
In the end it is about feeling seen and heard, beyond the persona, even beyond long-held beliefs and passions to finally arrive at the generous heart. Ralph found both that soulful place and high spirit. This is what shall live on in me.