In 1975, my next door neighbor Paul was a very famous architect, a graduate of Harvard, the University of Berlin, and the Bauhaus. He was in his 70s and an avid skier. He was a handsome man in great shape and with a lively mind. I had seen his homes in books of modern architecture.
I would go visit him frequently. He asked to borrow my books about Wittgenstein. We loved to sit and talk philosophy and modern design. I liked to play on his tennis court. My wife and I took care of his chickens when he and his young Chinese wife traveled. They lived in an old New England farmhouse that had been added onto time after time. It was an architectural mess. He was an architectural marvel. And he was my favorite unofficial mentor.
But then we had to move out of the one bedroom "mother in law" apartment in the big house where we lived outside New Haven. The husband of the family owning the home had disappeared for a year, only to show up one day in a crazy disguise. I didn't recognize him at all, but his kids yelled out "Daddy!" Weeks later, men in dark suits and Ford LTDs arrived to take boxes of things out of his part of the home. And soon, we had to move a mile away.
I later heard that Paul had been diagnosed with cancer. I tried to figure out what to say to him before I visited. I couldn't come up with anything. I was afraid to visit without good words for him. I thought I had to have answers. I postponed seeing him. I procrastinated. I was busy. I was in graduate school at Yale. I thought of him often, and put off what I thought would be a very awkward visit to a man who had been so full of life. Then someone told me he had died. Waiting for words was one of the worst mistakes I had ever made.
Don't wait for words. Don't wait for answers. Go to people in need and just show you care, words or not. People need love more than answers. People need you.
Sorry, Paul. I was an idiot. Actually, I was a coward. But I didn't understand that at all. I do now. And I've developed a little more courage, the essential courage to just go forth and be. I don’t have to have all the answers. But I do have this one. And now, all these years later. I have the courage to admit my weakness and to say thanks for the lesson. I still love you, man. I finally realize what it takes to show that to others.