The fragility of life

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS -

My fa­ther died of a heart at­tack in 1950, be­fore I reached my sec­ond birth­day. I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of him what­so­ever.

Sit­ting in a restau­rant with my mother some­time in the mid 1980s, I said, “So how long did it take for you to get over daddy’s death?” And she said, “I never got over it. I’m not over it yet. I just had a dream about him two nights ago.”

I was very sur­prised. To me, he was a pic­ture on the wall, a col­lec­tion of sto­ries, some­one from the dis­tant past. To my moth- er, of course, he was con­tinu- ally alive in her thoughts.

As I ap­proach my 70th birth­day later this year, I have a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing that, even as the decades pass, there are peo­ple long gone who stay with you all your life.

Rod­ney Lore

I at­tended ele­men­tary school in the Mt. Lebanon School Dis­trict, just south of Pitts­burgh. My best friend, and some­one I se­cretly en­vied, was Rod­ney Lore. He lived in a new split level house, just down the block, where I spent a lot of time. His fa­ther was a steel com­pany ex­ec­u­tive. He had a stay-at- home mom and a glam­orous older sis­ter named Pam. Rod­ney had a lot of sports para­pher­na­lia, the lat­est toys, and a com­plete base­ball card col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing the hard-to-get Mickey McDer­mott.

In 1959, my mother moved us back to Read­ing, and I never saw Rod­ney again. But ten years later, a Pitts­burgh friend wrote her that Rod­ney had died. He grad­u­ated from Mt. Lebanon High School, and North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity with a de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion, and then joined the Marine Re­serves.

He had a se­vere re­ac­tion to a rou­tine in­oc­u­la­tion and died about a month later.

Jack Rudolph

Back in Read­ing, my new best friend at North­west Ju­nior High School was Jack Rudolph — again, some­one I se­cretly en­vied.

Jack’s fa­ther was a highly re­garded physi­cian. In those days, it was not un­usual for doc­tors to prac­tice out of their homes, with their of­fice on the first floor and their apart­ment up­stairs. Jack’s liv­ing room, din­ing room, kitchen and par­ents’ bed­room were on the sec­ond floor. Jack’s bed­room, to­gether with his older broth­ers’, who were in med­i­cal school, were on the third.

The Ru­dolphs had air con­di­tion­ing — wow! — and a color tele­vi­sion. I liked be­ing at their house. I re­mem­ber Jack col­lected an enor­mous num­ber of presents for his bar mitz­vah and gave me some left­overs.

I last saw Jack in 1962, be­fore we moved to Al­len­town when my mother was trans­ferred in her job with the Amer­i­can Red Cross.

Years passed, and I was sit­ting in The Mer­cury news­room in April 1975 when I glanced at a head­line in the Read­ing Ea­gle:

Doc­tor Kills Son and Self

“Dr. Her­man L. Rudolph, 66, chief of phys­i­cal medicine and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion at the Com­mu­nity Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, fa­tally shot his 26-year-old in­valid son and then turned the gun on him­self in their sec­ond-floor apart­ment at 400 North 5th Street about 2 p.m. Mon­day, po­lice re­ported.

“… the physi­cian was be­ing treated for em­phy­sema and his son suf­fered from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, a de­bil­i­tat­ing and usu­ally ter­mi­nal dis­ease for the last sev­eral years.”

Jack was di­ag­nosed while a stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and was never able to start a ca­reer.

I marvel at how many decades of life I’ve en­joyed that these friends never got to ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m em­bar­rassed that I en­vied them, or any­one else, for their ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that peo­ple tend to feel more grate­ful and con­tent as they age. Life is pre­cious, and the closer we come to the end of it, the more we ap­pre­ci­ate what we have.

Rod­ney Lore

Jack Rudolph

Com­men­tary by Tom Hyl­ton

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