To Be Known

 

By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
pat@tearsoup.com

 

 

Art was a quiet man.  I knew him for 25 years.  He never had much to say.  He always sat in the same pew at church and had the best attendance on record.  He always sang the loudest.  He never drew attention to himself (except for maybe when he sang), and he never needed to be the center of attention.  He knew our names and he always seemed glad to know us.  But in those 25 years he never spoke of his past or his family.

There were two times when Art went missing.  He simply disappeared and no one could find him.  We looked everywhere but Art was not to be found.  One day I was running by the waterfront and I passed a man bent over as he walked.  His face could not be seen because of the hooded coat he was wearing.  But I knew it was Art because of the way this man shuffled as he walked.  I was glad to have found him.  And he seemed glad to have been found.

A few years later he went missing again.  Same situation.  He just disappeared leaving no trace.  Once again I was the one to find him.  I was waiting in line with a group of women to board a dinner cruise ship in downtown Portland when I spotted him sitting on a bench by the river.  I broke rank and hurried over to greet my lost friend.  I told him I was getting on that boat but would be back in two hours and I hoped he would still be sitting there so I could take him home with me.  He smiled and said, “Okay, Pat”.   Art was waiting for me just as he had promised.  Once again I was glad to have found him and he was glad to have been found.

Some of us who visited him when he was hospitalized for severe depression never expected that he would talk with us, but we knew he was glad we came.  One time I asked him if I could cut his hair.  He said “Yes.”  End of conversation.  He never failed to give me a hug when I left. 

He was a kind man.  He never took more than his share of anything.  He lived very simply.  He always had a smile on his face. 

Art died quietly in his sleep at the age of 75.  I thought I would have the chance to get one more hug from him, but that was not to be.

I was glad to have known him even though I didn’t know everything about him that there was to know.

What didn’t we know?  Only those secrets that he chose not to reveal. 

Surely one of our deepest needs in life is to be known, recognized and just accepted for who we are.  I feel known by another when I am valued and respected, accepted unconditionally and don’t feel out of place in the other person’s presence.  The other doesn’t need to know my accomplishments, history or defeats in order to make me feel known. 

At Art’s memorial service some spoke of feeling bad because we didn’t have much to say about his life and we thought that meant that we didn’t really know who he was.  But then, when we started sharing there were lots of stories of Art with us—stories of his spontaneous joy when he took to the volleyball court and played like an Olympic star, or how willingly and happily he shared his smokes with those who were without.  We knew he liked strawberry milkshakes and coffee, potlucks and Christmas. So what if he chose not to tell of us anything about his family, or his two tours in Vietnam. 

We were assuming because we didn’t know his whole story that his life was somehow diminished.  But in the ways that mattered most I think we did know who he was.

It was a very sweet memorial service for the man we knew little about, though he was with us for 25 years.  We knew enough to know that we loved him and that he knew it! 

I was glad to have known him.

And he is missed.