A Life that Passed Like a Wind

(About a 4 minute read) 

Thirty four years ago last November, my former roommate, Dan Cohen died at the age of 25. He was an extraordinary individual, and if you have a moment, I’d like to tell you a little bit about him.

Dan had the misfortune of being born a Thalidomide baby. He was significantly less than five feet tall, slightly hard of hearing, nearly blind but for his exceptionally thick glasses, and he had purple tinted teeth — which were always on display since his lips did not easily close over them. But the worst of it was that he had an exceptionally weak heart.

At the time I knew him, Dan could walk only a few hundred yards without stopping to rest because his heart would within that short distance pound like he’d run a marathon.

At an early age — maybe nine or ten — Dan’s doctors told his parents that, because of the weakness of his heart, he would most likely not live beyond 25 years old, which proved to be an accurate prediction. His parents made the decision to tell Dan what the doctors had told them, so Dan knew early on that he wasn’t going to live a long life.

I met Dan in college. He and I lived on the same dorm floor for awhile. We became roommates because no one else on the floor wanted him as a roommate. Frankly, Dan was one of the messiest people I’ve ever known. But when he asked to become my roommate, I figured I could handle it on the one condition that he didn’t let any of his mess stray to my side of the room.

It wasn’t long before I learned that Dan’s one ambition in life was to learn everything he could possibly learn as fast as he could learn it. Because of his circumstances, the university allowed him to study anything he wanted to study without pressuring him to graduate. His official major was biology, but he took courses in every major field of science along with many courses in the humanities. He was an engaging thinker, and introduced me to many ideas that were new to me.

The only thing Dan seemed to like more than learning something new was a good joke. Most of our conversations were laced with his wit, and even to this day, I can hear in my mind his laughter.

He also had an well-informed empathy for the underdog, the oppressed, that I myself at the time did not fully share with him. For instance, he was deeply concerned with injustices suffered by the Palestinians.

We only roomed together for one year before I left the dorms. Then one freezing winter night, Dan got a phone call from the hospital. My brother was seriously ill and had been taken to the emergency room. Could Dan give them my new number?

As it happened, Dan only had my address, but not my phone number. Without apparent thought for himself, he set out past midnight, in the middle of a blizzard, to walk to my new home because he didn’t have cab fare and couldn’t find anyone who would lend him the money. It took him, he said, almost two hours to reach me. He had to stop every block or so and rest his heart in the freezing wind.

What impresses me most about the man was not the selfless, heroic effort he made to inform me of my brother’s hospitalization, but rather his extraordinary love for life, his courage, and his sensitivity to others.

Dan knew he didn’t have much time in this world, but I never once heard him complain about it. You can say life was unfair to him, but that’s not a judgement he himself ever gave an indication of harboring.

Instead, I only recall his passionate enthusiasm when he would toss out to me some new idea he’d had, or some bit of knowledge he’d discovered that day. I think he made the most of the tragic hand he was dealt in life, and over the years, he has become something a personal inspiration to me.

Thank you for listening. I believe Dan deserves to be remembered.

16 thoughts on “A Life that Passed Like a Wind

  1. Just dazzled. It’s amazing how the people with the least to spend will spend it in an effort to do the right thing. Meaning not just giving you the message, but, well, learning everything about everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good insight! Perhaps Dan felt an urgency to “do the right thing”, given that he had, for lack of a better word, a deadline. But how he felt about his tragedy was something neither one of us ever brought up. We talked about everything else under the sun, but not that.

      Speaking of doing the right thing, our all male dorm floor was matched up with an all female dorm floor. Anytime we did something as a floor, we invited them and they did the same for us. It seemed to me that perhaps as many as two dozen of the women on that floor went out of their ways to socialize with Dan. I think they liked him well enough, and would have been friendly towards him to some extent anyway. But I formed an impression they were happily going the extra mile for him, doing their best to make sure he wasn’t lonely. I don’t think it was pity, either. I think the extra mile bit was compassion.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Compassion is beautiful, isn’t it? Not many things bring me to tears like a sincere, compassionate act. God created many beautiful things in this world, but not all of them are visual. Most of them are just sweet, everyday acts of kindness. Sometimes, I just love people. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean, Terri. Compassion will sometimes blur my vision too. Especially when it’s for someone who didn’t get the best cards in life. Just thinking of those women cheered my day.

        I agree with you about the beauty of certain feelings. If we could photograph them, the photos would rival any visually beautiful things.

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    • Interesting! I never thought of it that way. But then, even at 60, I’m discovering that I’m rather naive about how many d-bags there are in this world, and just how obnoxious and threatening they can be.

      It seems to me that, since returning to blogging and to reading blogs, I’ve come across way too many posts about being mistreated, threatened, stalked, etc. I don’t recall anywhere near so many stories six or more years ago. And I’m wondering if it has anything to do with all the other A-holes — the racists, antisemites, anti-immigrants, etc — coming out of their basements now that Trump’s in power.

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  2. Pingback: Late Night Thoughts: Love, Realism, Talents, Happiness, and More. | Café Philos: an internet café

    • I think Dan would have loved to be described by you as “a person you can trust”. The compliment in so many ways characterizes him. He was, for instance, one of the most conscientiously truthful people I’ve known. If he told you something, you could pretty much rely on it.

      Liked by 1 person

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