This morning, I was listening to an episode of "This American Life" called "How to Rest in Peace," about people coping with the murder of a parent. I don't normally seek out subject matter like that for my morning commute, but now that it starts at 5:45, it's not like I'm all that conscious, anyway.
This story, however, jolted me out of my doldrums. But not for the reason you might think.
It begins with two houses in Westchester, neighbors whose kids were the same age and spent lots of afternoon time playdating. Our protagonist is Jason, who was 6 when he and his mom drove to the neighbor's to pick up his sister. In a horrible case of Wrong Place, Wrong Time, the neighbor's house was being robbed when they arrived. One thing led to another, the situation veered terribly south, and Jason's mom ended up shot through the head.
The rest of the story is about how Jason has processed, or tried to process, that day. Because in the 30 years since it happened, he's never cried. And he's coming to realize that his life's path has been shaped by his subconscious need to provoke an emotional reaction in himself.
A story like this is alarming enough if you have young children, and you wonder how they would react to seeing you lying headless on the bedroom floor. But as the story progressed, and I pieced together bits of Jason's life, I suddenly realized that Jason is the owner of my local cafe, where I'm currently typing this.
I wouldn't say we're friends. We haven't gone out to bend elbows or anything. But I interact with him several days a week, and our chats have risen above small talk. He knows my kids, and I've met his wife and daughter. We've discussed the neighborhood, family life, his work as a location scout on "The Sopranos." He's pleasant and soft-spoken, generous, and judging by the crowds at his restaurant, a smart businessman.
And I never knew. Not that I would, since it's hard to slip a story like that into normal conversation.
Me: "Good morning! How are you today?"
Jason: "Not bad. My kid said 'Dada.' The pastry delivery's late. And I'm still trying to reconcile the random course of events that culminated in my mother's murder."
I'm not sure why I'm writing this now. I guess I'm realizing that it's way too easy to forget that each of us is a story, and that the many people who serve as extras in the movies of our lives are stars of their own. It's also made me reflect on the various degrees of pain that my friends and family have endured over the last few years, and how grateful I am for the lattice of love and friendship that has helped cushion the blows.
If you have the chance, you should listen to and/or read about Jason's story. But please don't come to the restaurant, because if too many people realize how great it is, I'll never get in there again.