Eulogy for My Friend, E.J. Levy
Someone important died yesterday. Maybe not important to world peace, or an Oppenheimer discovery, or a Barbie doll epiphany—but important in ways that were much more meaningful to the people who knew him. Someone who had a memory that retained every single thing from the wallpaper of our high school lives. Someone whose values often moved him to passionate monologues. Someone with the kind of curious mind that puts my lazy self to shame. When we spoke, he made me pay attention to our conversations. He sometimes frustrated me with his benevolence, even toward those who ‘unfriended’ him on Facebook because of his vocal commitment to his political views. He was the most forgiving, kind, understanding human I know. I guess I now need to say ‘knew.' His name was Edward Jackson Levy.
He was the memory of our high school class. Every minute of the years we shared were etched in his memory, and he was happy to push his recall button if you had a question, or needed a reminder of how you fit into the fabric of our years together.
In this year when we are all turning seventy, those memories matter to us all. Most of us are marveling at the enormity of that number. But EJ didn’t care about this milestone birthday—or what it implied about the expiration date that seems to be slowly creeping up on us all. He didn’t worry about it, because he had legs like Schwarzenegger and rode his bike 100 miles most weeks … sometimes, even on one day. He skied all winter and tracked his ‘mileage’ down the slopes, and would proudly send me screenshots that would often make me roll my eyes and think maybe he was a bit much around the health thing.
We all—every single person who knew him—thought he would outlive us because of his commitment to exercise and health. And now, he’s gone. In a flash. He rode 100 miles, went to bed, and didn’t wake up. That’s the way it was told to me. I also received a note that read, in part, ‘It was the way he would want to go.’ I understand that—peacefully, and having just done something he loved. But at the same time, I’m not so sure. Not the EJ I knew. He didn’t want to go. Ever.
He loved our classmates. We mattered to him. He learned from all of us. He took us in, and though it sometimes might have seemed like he did more talking than listening, the truth is that he always knew what everyone was up to. He cared. He would text or call to tell me of someone else’s successes or challenges—never his own.
And, he loved class reunions. When last year’s reunion was another no-show for me, he called afterward to recount every single conversation he had with every single attendee. He was so typically engaged and thorough that at a certain point, I got frustrated and told him that I needed to spend my time thinking about things I consider ‘important’—the future of democracy, the no longer certain life expectancy of our planet—not high school histories.
This was his text response after we hung up.
“Our discussions always get me revved up. In one respect you’re something of a psychodynamic spell check! Your push to move forward, to be playful and productive is invigorating. I think that for many, reunions are a time to look back and that’s not a direction you’re moving. For me, to be moving forward it may be beneficial to know where we are coming from. Meeting some old classmates lends clues to what motivates us, what works, and, indeed, what doesn’t.”
I rushed through this message when it arrived. Last night, I read it again and wept. He never judged my pompous judgment of others; he just pointed out what he saw, which was always—always—thoughtful, kind, interesting, and worth paying attention to. I wish I’d taken more time to answer his calls, which often came later in the evening—his best time for contemplation.
EJ was highly educated. Doctorate. He was a shrink, and he shrunk me quietly whenever I would open up to him. He would always say, “Perhaps…,” which in retrospect I understand translated to “Here is my professional opinion.” He also worked in a bike and ski shop. When I asked him about that, he said that he loved getting people excited about the sports which also meant so much to him. He was a natural cheerleader for anything you were going to do. He read my writing and commented often. Always positive.
He was a star athlete in high school, proudly protecting Bob Reid, our team’s running back, as they won football game after football game. He reminded me that my father, who played baseball at Harvard and in the majors for a summer, often came to watch Bob pitch, while EJ caught. He told me my dad taught Bob his curve ball, a memory long lost in my brain matter. He was competitive, but what I think about today is that mostly, he was always proud to support his fellow athletes. He was a true team player. His ego didn’t need him to carry the ball over the goal line; with his strong sense of self and his confidence, he was the best kind of person to have on your side—and as your friend.
He was one of the smartest people I knew. A reader. A thinker. A repeater of other points of view. He held education and intelligence as a part of you that you must nurture. He once told me the five people with higher grade point averages than him—that’s right, only five—but when he did, he talked about their brilliance and success. He didn’t need to showcase his own. No topic on his dance card of intellectual passion hadn’t been thoroughly explored: politics, women’s issues, gun control, history (mostly civil rights history), skiing, biking, Alana, and—yes, I’m saying it again—politics.
He was raised by a liberal, Jewish father and a feminist mother, and I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that he was one of the few men I know who did not have any bias toward women in any way. And, take a look at Alana, his beloved daughter, who he was so proud of, and in whom he had unfailing faith in her ability to navigate a world that still puts up so many extra obstacles for people of the female gender.
I remember a picture of them together on the slopes, and how he proudly added her ‘mileage’ to his own. He loved her passionately, kindly, and I cannot comprehend the loss that this fabulous human is going through now. But I know that he raised an independent girl, who will keep him with her always as she finds her way. If this gets to her, she should know that I will be there if there is anything she needs from the East Coast girl who was lucky enough to call her father a friend for so many years of our lives.
So, that was EJ’s life as I saw it. My high school classmate. My lifelong friend. It never occurred to me that I would never be able to speak to him again. Still wrestling with that. You made a difference in my life EJ—in the lives of many—and I can’t imagine that you are gone.
Note to self; tell those in your posse that they matter - and how - while you still can. He did.