PLAYING THE GAME: Love 101: Giving of Self

Bob Baker
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Bob Baker is a creative resource in Marblehead whose memoir-in-progress is “Outlucking Gatsby: From Greenwich to The Green Light.”

The mission statement for Love 101 is Father Gerry Barry’s axiom, “We are all walking each other home.”

The most powerful application of that is Abraham Lincoln’s, “No one stands taller than when they stoop to help a child.”

The point being that the highest, most loving form of helping each other along life’s journey is giving of self, figuratively and/or literally as much hands-on as possible. An example being that when you come across a moaning man battered to a pulp by the side of a country road and for some reason you’re without your phone, you don’t just ask him if he takes Amex or toss him a C-note, turn up the tunes and head off to the polo match. You leap your ass outta the car, tourniquet the bleeding with your best ascot, somehow struggle him to the car and gun it to the nearest ER.

In effect, what you’re doing is reaching out in human-to-human fashion, “humbling” yourself in a way, going out of your way to demonstrate your caring for them. The highest form of this “stooping to help” is when it’s done voluntarily, happily, enthusiastically and frequently. 

   * My high school-and-ever-onward buddy Skip Chard all but invented “random acts of kindness.” When I was working in New York in the ’60s, I heard from my parents that Skip voluntarily cleared the impossible hodgepodge of furnishings and overflowing paper cartons in the cellar for the price of … not telling me about it … de-guilt-tripping me, as it were. He was a town-wide legend in Greenwich for handyman jobs and painting for friends male and female suddenly single by way of divorce. His price: “Pass it on when you get a chance.”

* Peg, the love of my life from college years, in her letter telling me she was getting married, said we should never let our meaningful friendship cease: “… and when we get together, Bobby, no matter if our grandchildren are there, let’s hold each others hands so we know, just so we know.”

I subsequently met her terrific husband Jim Ritchie and went to their wedding in New Canaan in 1960. I visited Peg and Jim at their townhouse in Brooklyn Heights; Peg came to visit wife Nancy and me in Cambridge in 1963 — she and Nancy liked each other right away; in 1967, she came from Cambridge by T and bus (no matter how much I insisted, she refused to let me “go to the trouble” of picking her up and taking her back) to visit Nancy, son Richard and me in Marblehead — yes, each time at some point we sat there on a couch holding hands, talking with Jim or Nancy or Rich … or whoever else deserved to experience firsthand a sweet and enduring — I’ll give it a name — loveship.

(Sad-sad tragic note: Peg, Jim and their three children perished when Jim’s Piper Apache collided with another plane in dense fog over Long Island Sound in June 1969. They were en route to their summer place on Bailey Island, Maine.)

* My totally selfless, live-life-to-the-fullest son Rich lost a four-year smackdown with esophageal cancer in August 2016. In the year prior to his passing, he’d been on medical leave from his job at United Airlines and was living in Haverhill.

Because I’d seen so little of him in that time, I asked his best buddy Mike to fill me in on what Rich had been up to.

Mike emailed me: “I need to tell you Rich helped someone, somehow seven days a week all over the North Shore, he was constantly giving people rides to the (AA) halls, new and old members … didn’t matter, what mattered is Richie was saving their lives in the simplest but most profound way … Richie was a saint of the people in AA … nothing ever expected in return.”     

* Rufus Titus was a good guy in every way imaginable. A good guy to have on your team, whether it was Blue Cross Blue Shield where he held key positions, the Marblehead’s Board of Assessors he was elected to, the Visiting Nurse Association he was president of, the Marblehead Yacht Club he was commodore of or the Marblehead Rotary where he was honored as a Paul Harris Fellow.

But as a human being, he was an even “gooder” good guy: he was smart, caring, with an easygoing generous nature. Before his passing in May, in a half-dozen recent years — in his upper 80s yet! —  he assumed, in his inimitable good-guy fashion, the highly demanding (twice every school day) responsibilities of a crossing guard at the corner of Pond, Elm and Green streets — his gift of “stooping” to provide happy “Hi Rufus!” memories for countless Marblehead school kids.

* Dan Smith, who passed away in January, was a creature of brightness. He had a smile that could light the night, an agile brightness of mind that won him great success in the corporate world and a personality that, even in his 80s, had an irresistible boy-next-door gleam about it.

In addition to sitting on the board of the Marblehead Counseling Center, Dan devoted literally hundreds of hours to Hospice of the North Shore (now Care Dimensions). He was co-chairman of the annual auction and regatta for three years; and in the purest form of giving-of-empathetic self, he regularly visited hospice patients in their homes as a volunteer and worked at the front desk of Kaplan Family Hospice House.

Lines from the poem “Hopi Prayer” in a moving celebration of life arranged by Dan’s wife Bobbi in April play to the endless love implicit in Dan’s bright smile: “I am the swift uplifting rush/ Of quiet birds in circled flight./ Do not stand at my grave and cry:/ I am not there, I did not die.”

* A passage from a letter from hard-boiled author Ernest Hemingway to his friends Gerald and Sara Murphy on the passing of their son Baoth in 1935 ends on a promise of endless love parallel to the lines in “Hopi Prayer”: “Very few people ever really are alive and those that are never die; no matter if they are gone. No one you love is ever dead.”

No one you love is ever dead … true, right on, yes yes yes.

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