Editor’s Notebook: The people you meet along the way
An empty bench, the kind two friends might share, on a wet Monday afternoon in downtown Concord. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
I didn’t really know Renny Cushing at all.
We met once, years ago, because the editorial board on which I served was being honored for supporting the repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. I was an imposter at the ceremony – all of the important work was done by my editorial writing partner, Ralph Jimenez, and my major contribution amounted to agreeing with him wholeheartedly. But fortunately I went anyway.
Renny, who died of cancer on Monday morning, was the true star of the event for his decades of activism, and it took a while for me to cut through the crowd around him so Ralph could introduce the two of us. By then Renny was standing with a different kind of star: actor and fellow death penalty opponent Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicutt on “M*A*S*H.” Once the introductions were made, I realized one of them made me a bit nervous and more than a little self-conscious – and it wasn’t Hawkeye Pierce’s old tentmate.
I don’t remember what kind of small talk the four of us exchanged, but I do recall that Renny was strikingly self-possessed. I’m always a little amazed – envious even – when I meet people who are fully comfortable in their own skin, and I haven’t met many. Most people reveal their primary insecurities immediately, and so it’s noteworthy when you meet somebody who doesn’t. And Renny didn’t. While it’s possible that my first and only impression of him was wrong, I’ve seen no such evidence in the notes of mourning written by those who knew and loved him.
The man I met that night is the man I’ll remember.
I’ll always remember Sol Solomon, too. I suspect many of you are unfamiliar with the name, but cancer also claimed him this month.
As with Renny, I was introduced to Sol because of my position as the Concord Monitor’s opinion editor. Sol had written an op-ed titled “First things first, it’s time to outlaw war,” and as I did each time I accepted an unsolicited submission, I sent an email to let the writer know that I enjoyed the piece and was happy to run it in an upcoming edition.
Typically I would get a response such as “Great! Thank you for letting me know!” and that would be that. But not with Sol. I’m not sure of the exact path that initial email exchange took but it ended with him asking if I would like to get together for lunch, and I accepted.
I also remember being surprised by his follow-up question: “Would you mind if my granddaughter joined us?”
I had yet to meet the man, but over the course of a handful of emails he had decided not only that he wanted the two of us to actually get to know each other but that he would very much like me to meet the child who was his world.
His granddaughter ended up not being able to join us that day, but I never forgot the gesture – or the one that followed. During that first lunch, Sol and I mostly talked about words, the kind we liked to write and the kind we liked to read. He mentioned a few of his favorite books and asked if I had read them. When I admitted I hadn’t, he asked for my mailing address so he could send them to me. I thanked him and said that wasn’t necessary, that I would check the library or order them online. He wouldn’t hear of it. “I enjoy giving books to my friends,” he said.
A few days later a box arrived at the house.
Sol and I had lunch together several times after that, sometimes just the two of us and sometimes with other opinion writers – our own little Algonquin Round Table. But over the past year we fell out of touch, and a week ago today I heard from a mutual friend that he had died that morning. I didn’t even know my friend was sick.
I didn’t know that our last lunch was our last lunch.
I didn’t know that was the end of our story.
Goodbye, Sol, and thank you for inviting me to be a small part of your full life. And farewell, Renny, the man I barely knew but will never forget.
You will be missed.
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