April 24, 2012 | Review Period

A Language Friend Leaves Us

A language lover in my building has died.

The other day I observed to my husband, “I haven’t seen John for a while. I wonder if he’s sick.” 

I was referring to a longtime resident in my building, an elderly man I knew who had battled and overcome brain cancer about 15 years ago.

He was always very, very nice to me. He had an interesting background. He had been in the military, he told me. I could see he was a natural intellectual—one of those people who are just inherently curious about their world.

The Book John Gave Me

The Book John Gave Me

He used to run. Until he had brain cancer. He told me that maybe four years ago. Hearing that was a major part of what inspired me to take up running seriously again. It was a “seize the day” kind of moment for me. And, despite all the annoying injuries, it is an important part of my life that he inspired me to resuscitate, for which I am very grateful.

John was also a language lover. I’m not sure how many he knew, but he loved Italian and would speak to me in Italian when he saw me. And French. And I think also German. He was well-versed in grammar, so we could have advanced grammar discussions—my favorite kind.

He gave me an Italian grammar book he had. It was a duplicate of one he already owned, so we had twin grammars. 

One challenge in practicing with him was that his hearing was bad. So when I would see him in a café, and he would speak to me in a foreign language, I would have to practically yell the response. That made me highly self-conscious and, I hate to say it, hobbled the conversation somewhat on my end.

But he was always very kind to me, as I said previously. Today I learned that he had died, and I suddenly wished I had done more language practice with him, and been less stupidly self-conscious.

Good-bye, dear John, and thank you!

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