“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.