He showed up in class one day, 1983 or 1984. Quiet, dignified, poised, collected.
I didn’t like him.
I assigned ‘fake’ to him. Or I should say I ‘projected’ fake on to him. He wasn’t. Maybe I was.
As we interacted in small groups and then socially, I saw he genuinely possessed those qualities, but not just those qualities.
He was funny in an understated, intelligent way. I had the feeling over the years that he was silently watching a comedy show all day long. A private showing. And only those closest to him gained admittance to his private theater, shared his reviews of this perpetual comedy played out before him.
I never met his parents. I understand his dad was a corporate exec. I could be wrong.
Mark played tennis. Played it well, too. I didn’t. I was ok with that. It seemed too much work to learn. (“Too much work” meant too many losses in hot unbearable weather in a setting where cursing, pushing and shoving your opponent was deemed inappropriate.) And I sensed that his upbringing led in part to his dignified, poised, bearing.
Man, could he give a presentation for a corporate boardroom. Organized, clear, steady, good documentation...way back when before we had PPT.
Looking back, I sense he was bored with it all. Like he realized it’s part of the script in the movie before him. And he was playing a role, but only playing it. And he played it well enough for his audience.
One day I picked him up hitch hiking. He had hitch hiked about 4 hours from his home, mostly on 2 lane roads through rural Iowa. He was dignified that day, too. It was hot, with no shade on the entrance ramp. I have no idea how long he’d been standing there. A few hours I think he said. That’s when I realized there’s a depth to this guy I’d never seen before.
We picked him up. And he was the real Mark for the 30 minute ride home. He invited us into his theater for that ride home. And while he was wearing the costume of dignified son of corporate exec, he revealed his bohemian life.
Over the years, our paths would cross regularly at Cafe Paradiso here in town. We’d both be topping off our caffeine tank. And we’d share a few insights in to sports, life, our community, our friends. He was always someone I enjoyed seeing. I knew he heard me, was never judgmental or pinched, spoke with me...present. I always came away feeling better for the time spent.
My schedule changed a couple of years ago. I’m impatient, especially early in the morning. Abrupt, sometimes unpleasantly so. Waiting in line for espresso...well, Mark and his composure seemed to handle it with more grace than I. I bought an inexpensive espresso machine. And our paths rarely crossed again.
Mark got married. And I believe from the glow and smile on his face, his animated walk and talk, from how much faster he drove his car around...that he’d met someone who quietly been in the same theater for a long time. And now they could share that movie together and laugh out loud.
Why am I writing this post?
Mark passed away very recently. It’s still hard for me to accept that.
I hadn’t seen him in awhile. But it wasn’t like he was gone. I never thought we'd never cross paths again.
And his passing made me think why I genuinely liked Mark, how in his own way, he’d made my life better, showed a bit of balance is a good thing, a quiet humor is a good humor, and now I’ll miss him. I am thankful for Mark. Wherever you are, dude, keep on shining as you did here.