I imagine Alex sitting on a chair, looking somehow both dignified and awkward, at the first and, as it turned out, only meeting of the writing club that he started with a few of our friends. The piece he presented was a monologue about how much he admired his younger brother Dash for handling his diabetes so well. And what I remember most vividly was the phrase Alex used to described him – “Dash, the sickly little superman.” (This was written some time ago; these days Dash is far from little).
But what strikes me about that image is how well it captures what was so unique and wonderful about Alex’s vision of the world. He was able to see clearly the reality of other people’s experience, especially the difficult, the painful, the embarrassing, and the awkward. And in his writing, his jokes, even his little asides to himself that he would inevitably say out loud, he revealed how simultaneously funny, familiar, and utterly, sympathetic this habit or that affliction was. He was equally clear-sighted about himself, his foibles and insecurities, which were, of course, his main subject. He thought about them endlessly, talked about them endlessly, and always made them hilariously funny and deeply touching. His humor didn’t belittle either himself or others. Instead it revealed how absurd and poignant people really are beneath their outward show. It actually changed peoples’ perception of their own lives. Peter Willumsen has told me how much Alex’s monologue deepened and enriched his relationship with his own brother.
Alex’s insight and empathy made him a wonderful friend, and the vividness of his character has left an indelible mark on every person who knew him, especially the group of former classmates from St. Bernard’s and Trinity whom Winky, I’ve recently learned, has taken to calling the ragamuffins. (You can see why in the picture she took at his 23rd birthday three weeks ago, in which he sits regally in an armchair, and we look like a bunch of hobos.) Everyone I’ve talked to remembers him dancing crazily down the halls of Trinity. Everyone remembers him rapping along to Gansta’s Paradise. And we remember how dapper he looked suited up just to take a walk in the halls of Sloan Kettering.
“Sickly superman” was a prescient phrase, since Alex, in the last months of his life, never let his disease take him over. He always kept his courage, his kindness, and his endlessly inventive wit. He stood out vibrantly from the accoutrements of illness around him, always full of humor and always full of life.
The point I really want to make is this: Alex was denied the years in which most people get to do what conventionally makes life meaningful – have a family, rack up some professional accomplishments. He was denied the time to use the remarkable talents he was only just understanding he had, denied the praise they could have won him, which, with his writerly self-involvement, I know he would have loved. Even so, his life was as intensely meaningful as any life can be. His observations, his jokes, even just his watchful, tentative bearing, were unique and utterly unforgettable. His incandescent personality made people love him.
I think my fellow ragamuffin Dan Friedman really got it when he told Winky that, for all the pain and rage we’ve all felt in last two years, he would not have missed a second of it, would not have traded the profound privilege of knowing Alex and sharing his company for anything in the world. We will never forget Alex and we will never stop loving him.
- Alec Magnet
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