I’ve been lucky enough to be a fill in dog walker for someone who has A.L.S. this week and it made me think of my friend, Jerry Kauffman, who died of A.L.S. in February 2008.
I still think of Jerry in the present tense even though it’s been years, but I still adore him and that is the sort of thing that doesn’t go from present tense to past tense because of something like death.
That’s what Jerry Kaufman taught me. He taught me that the good things – love, adoration – they endure.
Jerry was not a perfect man. He could be almost too loud sometimes. He could be brash some other times. That was part of his enthusiasm, his style. He always knew what he believed and sometimes what he believed struck people in a bad way. That’s not why I adore him, but it’s part of why I admire him. It takes an immense amount of courage to always loudly and bravely state what you believe and what you think is right even when no other person agrees with you. And then to sometimes change your opinion after you’ve done that.
It’s something I wish more people could do, could feel safe to do, that their egos could allow them to do.
But the reason that I adore Jerry is because he adores his wife, Jacqui.
Jerry’s adoration of Jacqui stays in the present tense, too. Something like death never changes that.
The first time I met them I was doing an article for WERU’s newspaper/bulletin. I drove down to their house in Surry. I was in my twenties.
I was really, really shy.
I parked my Subaru, listened to the sounds of dogs yipping and stared through the darkness at a house lit up from inside with absolutely golden light, trying to brave myself up enough to go inside.
Then Jerry flung open the door.
The first thing I noticed was his hair. There was all this hair, wild, dark, curly, like a lion’s mane.
I may have stepped back.
But Jerry wasn’t good about letting people step back. He stepped forward bellowing, “Hello! Hello!” and pulled me into a hug.
Then I noticed Jacqui, his wife. She too had amazing hair, amazing in a beautiful way. But the best thing was her eyes.
Writers always talk about people’s eyes sparkling, but Jacqui’s really did. They sparkled brilliantly reminding me of the warm golden lights of their house. Then I looked at Jerry’s eyes. They were sparkling too.
“The great love of my life,” he said, gesturing towards her.
I knew right then, absolutely, without a doubt, that what they were sparkling about was each other. They loved each other more than any couple I have ever met. It made me sigh with happiness. It made me smile. It made me want to be just like them.
It’s about twenty years later and now I am a lot closer.
It’s about twenty years later and now I love a man more than I could ever imagine. It’s the kind of love that Jerry and Jacqui have.
It’s about twenty years later and Jerry has died so many years ago already.
I know, I know absolutely without a doubt that a lot of people think Jerry is a hero for dealing with A.L.S., for making himself into Stem Cell Man (his adopted superhero name) and approaching illness with a vitality and humor that most people never show when they are healthy.
But for me, Jerry and Jacqui Kaufmann are heroes for loving. It’s rare that you find people so willing to put all of their hearts, all of their souls, out there for the world to see. Every time Jerry saw my little girl, which was about once a year, he would throw his arms open, wrap her in a hug and tell her how beautiful and brilliant she was. That’s the way love should be. It should be something that solids you up, that makes you throw your arms open, makes your eyes sparkle, something that spreads and spreads and stays in the present tense.
That’s why I adore Jerry Kaufman.
That’s why I will always adore Jerry Kaufman, because no matter what else he did or what else he was, no matter what fights he faced or opinions he carried, he is someone who taught me all about that kind of love and how that kind of love is truly the essence, the joyous essence of a beautiful, beautiful soul.You can find out more about Jerry at his website. It has a lot of information about A.L.S., a place to donate, and a bit about Jerry and it was made out of love, not just for Jerry, but for the world.
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