Heroes and Interesting People

How to be Alive in Eleven Easy Steps

Today I lost one of my dearest friends.

It doesn’t matter that he was several decades older. In truth, he was younger than I.

John Nason was perhaps the most vibrant and alive person I ever knew. He filled a room with his booming voice, wicked wit, and an intelligence about life and people so profound, he could size anyone up in a matter of moments.

white and yellow flower in tilt shift lens
Photo by Siritas Keawnet

People loved John, I wasn’t the only one. John was loved, because he loved us first. He lived to be among people. He could connect with anyone from the janitor who spoke no English — even if John didn’t speak his language — to the CEOs of some of the largest corporations on the planet.

I met him a few days after 9/11 in an apartment that overlooked the still smoldering Pentagon. No one would rent the apartment next to ours — number 911 — thinking it portended bad luck. John laughed at his good fortune. He’d been able to negotiate a better deal in rent, after all. He and his lovely wife filled the space with art collected over years of travel. They’d been nearly everywhere and knew the most interesting places to go.

We became immediate friends. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but John would come over in the evenings and I’d pour one for him on nights his wife, a flight attendant, was out of town. He’d regale us with stories of his life. And what a life! He could have lived ten of them.

silhouette of tree near body of water during golden hour
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To be in John’s inner circle was to be unabashedly loved. He worshiped his wife, his children, his daughter-in-law, his grandchildren, his parents. He was proudly American, but respected all cultures of the world — the France of his mother, the Andorra of his grandfather, the Japan where he grew up, the places he traveled. He loved culture, but it was the local people he went to see, to connect with, to grow to understand. He ate their food without fear, asked questions, and bought their art. He sat, watched and observed, and always laughed — mostly at himself.

Yet, there was a thread of loneliness inside, a hint of the man who’d suffered through the death of two sons and seen too much ugliness in the world. If you looked closely enough, the sad puppy dog eyes would occasionally peer out at you, a little lost boy whose pain was too great to ever be taken away. In the next second the expression would vanish and he’d be back to his jovial self. John bore his hurts alone, perhaps sharing them occasionally with his wife, but the idea of inflicting his pain on anyone else was anathema to him.

Here is what John taught me about being alive:

  1. Love first and love well.
  2. When you are rejected, accused, or hurt, protect yourself, but keep on loving, hoping, and always moving forward with arms spread out for those who lag behind.
  3. There is always something interesting about another person. It’s your job to find out what it is.
  4. Eat well, live well, be fearless, but never at the expense of anyone else. Be generous with those you love and with strangers you meet.
  5. A good story is better currency than gold.
  6. Say yes to people, say yes to life.
  7. There is always a way to get around the obstacles of life.
  8. Make other people’s dreams come true.
  9. Do not accept hypocrisy or meanness or bigotry or stupidity.
  10. Discover what you are good at and then do it better than anyone else, but do not let it be the only thing you ever do.
  11. Be sharp, be intelligent, be thoughtful, be knowledgeable, but above all be worthy of being loved.

Unfortunately, John’s death comes before our book, Drunken Horses, the story of his life in Japan was finished. It is the story of a young boy becoming more Japanese as Occupied Japan becomes more American. When I can, I will continue with our notes, and his wife and children, to fill in the missing pieces. It is a story that must be told, because John Nason is a man to be remembered.

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