This post may ramble a bit, because I haven't thought any of it through, but am just going on the feeling that I want to mention these things.
From the window my desk faces (as well as from my balcony) I can see the apartment building next door. For the past five years, an older gentleman in a worn, red jacket stood in one of the doorways there and smoked. We would watch each other, he and I, but never say a word. A small smile or nod of acknowledgment from time to time, but neither of us knew anything about the other - other than he smoked in the early morning and evening, and wore a red jacket. I wrote in the early morning and evening, and sometimes took fresh air on my balcony. Over the years, I somehow came to feel very fond of this old guy, as did my daughter, Emily. She would see him in the afternoon, riding his bicycle around the parking lot and found him charming as well.
The day after Christmas, he was working on the roof when he suddenly fell off and died from the impact. My daughter and I didn't know right away it was him - only that someone had fallen and died. We both said the same thing at the same time: "I hope it wasn't the old man in the red jacket." Sadly, it was. And even though it would have been tragic no matter who had fallen, our first thoughts went to him. There were other people living over there, but he somehow touched our hearts without ever having spoken a word.
We later found out this poor man had no family, and the other people in his building didn't know what to do about the body. He was originally from Mexico, and his remains were left to the state of Illinois. Emily and I were heartbroken when we heard this news, and I have been saddened ever since. Just yesterday, I thought I saw him in his doorway and in a flash of a second was so happy to see him before I remembered he was gone. I started crying and couldn't stop. It was just too sad that this poor man lived and died alone, far from home and whatever family he started with. No one to say goodbye to him, no one to mourn him. As I cried, my cats gently walked up to me, eyes worried, then climbed on my lap and started licking my hands. I realized they were upset because I was, and so I began to soothe them as they soothed me.
In that moment, I realized that even though I never knew him, the man in the red jacket did not go unmourned or unmissed. He is still remembered fondly.
May he rest in peace.