Mark is Gone: Everyday Magic, Day Nine

“hard to write this    Mark Larson died    blood clot after surgery     tears  db” — that’s what the email said, coming from my friend Danny to the Kansas Area Watershed Council listserv at noon today. I was sitting at Signs of Life, in the middle of a serious multi-tasking frenzy, when I was stopped stunned in my tracks. I did the only thing I could think to do: pack up, walk to the car, and drive to Danny’s so we could look at each other and ask how this happened, how this could happen.

I met Mark over 28 years ago through KAW and he’s been a steady part of my life ever since. Mark and I ran with the same pack to and through potlucks, campouts, presentations, workshops, protest marches, heart-to-hearts and more potlucks. We sometimes had a complicated friendship in the early days — seems my New Yorker sometimes hard-hearted 20-something-year-old self clashed easily with his farmboy-quiet-sensitive 40-something-year-old self. Once we even tried to share a house — he wanted companionship, and I needed a roommate. It was a disaster, but at least a short-lived one, and time is a great equalizer.

We connected mainly through bioregionalim, poetry, and occasional forays into rich desserts. He knew our children from birth onward, and although they scared him at times (scared me, too), he gave them enough benefit of a doubt to enjoy good talks with them every so often. He even knew our families of origin. In  recent years, Mark was always at any party, bat mitzvah, graduation celebration, walkabout and whatever else we hosted, and occasionally, he even dropped by on a Saturday morning to sit in our living room and visit. What I liked most about conversations with him is how he often used the phrase, “Say,” as in “Say, did you happen to see….” I find that phrase as charming as “right as rain.” Mark was kind of like a relative — a cousin who lived in the same town. I’ve had his phone number memorized for close to three decades.

Eventually, all the veils are lifted, and we start to see glimmers of who we are beneath who we think we are or the other is. Mark loved gardening, writing and reading poetry, studying nature, working for justice, being heard and helping others hear, and his little dog, Felix. He was frugal to the point of outrageousness, dogged about standing up for those with no voice, and steady presence in many groups and many circles. He could sit through meetings with the best of them and put together potluck dishes from the garden and what he salvaged. Although a relatively quiet person, he thrived on being around people and being involved in the community.

While it’s obvious at this moment how much I took for granted that Mark would be around for a long time longer, it’s also obvious how little we can see who will die when and how. Mark was probably about 77 or 78, but seemed younger. He was pretty healthy, walked a lot and wanted to walk more — which is what led him to the hospital to get his second knee replaced on Monday. No way of knowing that on Tuesday a blood clot loosened by the surgery would cause him to have a heart attack and die.

Meanwhile, my child-mind struggles with its little explanations of “Why do people keep dying?” while my elder-mind answers, “Because this is what life does.” I stared mindlessly into space, mis-hear “meth addicts” as “methodists,” eat too much or too little, can’t work or can’t stop working, all as ways to cope with what I can’t fathom. Mark is gone. And he won’t be back.

Photos: All are on my computer from years of knowing Mark. Bottom photo is most recent: Mark at Natalie’s graduation party in May, 2010, talking with Gary.

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12 responses to “Mark is Gone: Everyday Magic, Day Nine

  1. Jennifer Dropkin

    I can’t describe the ugliness of my surprise when I saw that Mark had died. I knew he was going in for surgery, and I took it for granted that he would survive it. He had asked me to look into his mother’s family tree, and I was getting ready to give him my second revision; no great discoveries but a little more detail. Mark invited me to one of your Hannukah celebrations a few years back, a thoughtful gesture from a kind man. I will miss him.

  2. I had gradually been getting to know Mark since moving back to Lawrence in 2002. He inspired many ideas in me mostly centering around organic gardening & produce and environmentalism.
    I hope that someday perhaps we could name
    a permanent organic produce center or something related to gardening after him here in Lawrence.

  3. Janet FitzGerald

    No! No! No! was my first response when I received an email from a friend. Everyone was fully expecting Mark to recover fine from the surgery. I have known Mark from the Unitarian Fellowship for about seven years. He’s always been so kind to me, and has attended many of my screenings pertaining to food and environment. I am in my early 40′s, and I have always felt that our age gap was never a factor in our relationship. His absence from the Fellowship and elsewhere will be akin to a picture missing from the family wall. Thanks so much, Caryn, for writing your memories of Mark. He is gone, but he left us with a smile.

  4. Louise Smith

    Thanks, Caryn.
    I will miss Mark’s steady presence and curiosity.

  5. Paula Brennecke (Upper Blackland Prairie Bioregion)

    Thanks for your reflections, Caryn. I didn’t really know Mark … but can understand from your thoughts why he will be greatly missed. I celebrate his completed life with you all.

  6. Mark Kaplan

    This is very bad news… Mark was among the best people on the face of the Earth. We last spoke on the phone last winter, after Rob Kammeyer died. Mark reminded me that he would be spending the rest of his life trying to make the world a better place.

    My love to his friends and family…

    Mark Kaplan

  7. Time seems to stand still when we receive news like this. Much love to you and to all who knew and loved Mark. May he be on a wonderful adventure and may you meet again.

  8. What hurts me the most is hearing that he died because of knee replacement surgery. I feel so frustrated by that. I remember taking walks with him and Felix and my two dogs and him talking about the pain in his knees and the shoes that he had form his doctor to help him. Who would have thought that the thing that was promising him a better life would be the thing that killed him. I can’t help but feel angry. Not at anyone in particular just that it doesn’t seem like it was the right reason for him to die.

  9. wow and yukk-
    I always figured Mark would be around for a long long time because he was so quiet and focused and lived so simply, all those things that should prolong one’s existence.
    I haven’t seen him for a while, but this is another bleak and needless and sad twist of fate…

  10. Dayna Carleton

    Thanks for sharing your memories. I am so, so sad! Mark was such a wonderful person, one of the best people on earth really says it all for me. What a terrible loss for our Lawrence community! I will be with you all in spirit on Saturday and wish I could be there in person.

  11. Mark was truly selfless in the best sense of the word. He cared deeply for people and the planet. I mourn his loss with all of you.

  12. carynmirriamgoldberg

    Thank you everyone for these moving comments. I feel surprised, angry, turned upside-down too, and your words made me cry in connection. I really appreciate you sharing your words here. Jeez, life is so outrageously strange and sad sometimes!