Yesterday they buried Manny.
My friend Tracey had texted me to tell me about his death and at the end of her message she said, “(hearing about his death) made me so sad.”
I immediately knew what she meant. For a moment I sat motionless while I stared at my IPhone screen and felt the impact of her words. Sweet, gentle Manny had died. In a split second I was flooded with tender images of another era in my life, a world before text messaging and driving licenses and husky voices and the smell of man-sweat.
It was a little boy world. When my laundry basket had small blue and white uniforms inside it and the backseat was filled with high pitched laughter and food wrappers, and each morning there was the daily drop-off at St. Mel’s Elementary School, where my boys grew up from kindergarten through eighth grade.
This is the world where I knew Manny.
I’d usually run into Manny on my way back to my car in the mornings. I’d see him pushing his janitor cart in the hallway with his classroom keys dangling loudly on his chain. Or he’d be happily digging among his masses of rose bushes in the front of the school.
“Hey Les,” he’d call out when he saw me coming. “How’s your roses doing?”
Most of the time I didn’t even have roses planted but I’d stop and talk. Because Manny was one of those stable fixtures in your surroundings that makes your world feel normal. Being greeted with his twinkling eyes and his warm smile was part of my life back than, just like the hurried flow of the car pool lane and the Friday morning Masses led by the students.
But Manny was so much more than the school handyman and janitor. He was one of those people that was everyone’s friend. He was a wee-sized man who walked with a slow gait and had vision problems and diabetes but he always seemed to be on his way to fix something. Or to unlock a door for someone. And he’d never miss a moment to stop and chat. To look you in the eye and ask you how you were. To tell you about his secret tip for growing roses ( manure), or his latest marinade for his tri tip steak, which was his pride.
Manny was the reliable softness at a school that was run by up-tight women with stiff smiles. He made hamburgers on Fridays for the kids, and talked with them in the same kind, respectful tone he’d use with adults. Funny how quickly kids can recognize genuineness.
Because the kids loved Manny.
So the other night as I got ready for bed, I texted Patrick to tell him about Manny’s death.
I knew he’d react but I was still caught off guard by his flurry of text messages:
Noooo that’s sooooo sad.
How did he pass?
When’s his funeral?
I would love to have gone.
This is very upsetting, he was one of the nicest people ever.
I can’t find his obituary?.
How do you spell his last name?
I was in bed when he texted me the copy of Manny’s obituary that he’d found.
And then, because I knew he was sad and we were so far apart I texted these words in the dark:
I’m so sorry honey, I know it’s sad. But you can write in his guest book, I did.
The next morning when I woke
I saw a screen shot of his guest book entry he’d sent me at 11: 30 p.m.
Patrick’s words made me stop and think.
He’d been an eighth grader when he last saw Manny but his warm feelings had remained after all these years.
What a lesson.
In this day and age where everyone is trying to connect with the masses through social media, to showcase their wonderful lives on their Facebook page, to capture an audience with interesting, strategized blog posts and to impress followers with clever tweets…
Manny was a lesson about genuine connections.
In a world hung up on defining yourself with a unique brand and projecting a certain image, Manny was a throw-back to a time when you didn’t do things to get noticed.
In the middle of a rushed morning, he stopped and made eye contact. He smiled. He asked about you. He laughed about nothing in particular. He made you slow down long enough to gaze at the beauty of his latest rose bloom. He treated the kids with gentleness.
I thought about Patrick who is now a twenty year old college student living hundreds of miles away. And how he felt jolted by sadness for a man he hadn’t seen in years. I imagined him scanning his IPhone in search of Manny’s obituary while his girlfriend sat nearby. And how he took the time to write in a guest book at 11:30 at night for a school janitor that he never forgot.
Because of his simple kindness.
It’s amazing what we remember in the end.
This post is in honor of Manny. If you would like to sign his guest book please click HERE.
I’m linking up with these friends, please stop by: