Obituary for a man I knew for 10 minutes

May 17, 2013

Last week I got to meet a man in the last six hours of his life, although I obviously didn’t know that at the time. I don’t remember his name or where he was from, but I believe he was born in India. I shook his hand and looked at his face. He was visiting my roommate, dressed in a comically oversized suit and a cheap bowtie. He looked like he was dressed to perform at a child’s birthday party, the kind of man who might be secretly versed in magic. With golden apple cheeks covered in whiskers, he had the kind of warmth that sticks with you, like someone out of a Bob Hope movie.

He and my roommate searched for a particular brand of cigarettes on the streets of Devon all day, and as they waited for the elevator, they were going upstairs to her boyfriend’s place in retreat. They found out the cigarettes are illegal here, even though her boyfriend swore you could buy them on the street. I said goodbye to him as the elevator doors opened. I never saw him again. His bags are still in my apartment; his military duffle rests against my couch and his books linger on my table.

Shortly after meeting me, he fell out from the fourteenth story of our Edgewater apartment complex. The selling point of our building, which is otherwise the sort of economy buy that attracts college students and recent immigrants, is the view: a panoramic gaze upon the shores of an endless crush. On quiet days, I like to sit on my windowsill and watch the cold fabric continually wrinkle toward me, as if it were an invitation to meet. When he saw the lake and the sunrise that bursts into our apartment every morning, he decided to poke his head out to take a look.

My roommate described him as an adventurer, a "reckless Lisbon type" who wasn’t afraid of anything, even something as unbeatable as gravity. He reminded me of Shakespeare’s Mercutio, the type who narrowly stays out of trouble until it eventually finds him. My roommate trusted him to continue his record of narrow escape and went to the restroom. When she came back, he was gone. She figured that he went up to the roof to get a closer look and took her boyfriend with her to go get him, just in case. He wasn’t there either. She was the one who found him on the sidewalk. I can still see the mark he left behind.

After the incident, I didn’t see my roommate for days and wondered where the visitor had gone. She mentioned he would be staying with us. Was he too busy exploring? Were the sights that intoxicating he couldn’t resist staying out all the time? On Monday morning, a neighbor approached me to tell me she had seen an ambulance earlier that day. She wondered if I had seen it too, or if the white sheet was a ghost only she had witnessed. I confessed I hadn’t seen or heard anything and quickly dismissed it, sure everything was fine.

I went outside to look and the ambulances were still there, cleaning up the scene. I was still sure everything was fine. I never thought to connect the two events, until I got the news. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that moment since, my casual ignorance of how precious and fragile life is. I’ve spent the time since reflecting and trying to take it in, mourning a man whose name I can’t remember off the top of my head. Writers often want to put a period on things and give a closure to our lives. We want to celebrate the living and eulogize the departed to give their lives meaning. It's what we are born for.

I can’t give his life meaning, because I hope it already had that. I hope that, as he fell, he had the time to pray (if he is a person who prays) and settle up his tab on good terms with the proprietors. I hope he had the time to reflect and make amends in his heart where forgiveness was needed and that his mind was clear enough to leave one final thought, something you would want to write down for later. I hope he got one last look at that view.

We live with a third girl, who we’ll call Ann. In the last few days, she has found comfort in faith, revisiting the spirituality that helps the world make sense during times like these. But I don’t believe in God. I believe in us. I believe in our power to find light in the darkness and create meaning out of chaos. Humanity is my faith, even when its tested in moments like these. Humanity brings me back to the light.

I keep thinking of a man I met on the train a few weeks ago. He was coming from Panama to visit his mother for Mother's Day. He's traveled the world and found one constant.

"They always say the world is a terrible place and people are out to get you," he told me. "But the one thing I've learned is the world is good. The world is good. The world is good."

Even as I can't help but mourn for the visitor and for his family's loss, I have to remember this. The world is good.

Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago. You can find Nico on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.