He was a truly beautiful human being – it will always be strange to refer to him in the past tense – and for all his love for life, which was extraordinary, his greatest quality by far was his kindness.
I've been lucky. I've never known extended physical pain of any sort. The pain, when I've dealt with has been has suggested that I have a high threshold for (mostly around the digits I've broken and the marathon training I've subjected myself to). I spoke with Chris frequently in his last months and in hindsight feel terrible about discussing the reasons I had to stop training for marathons to deal with my back pain. We would talk (he will always be a better listener than I am). I can scarcely imagine the amount of pain he must have been in those last few months where he simply described it as... "yeah this sucks more than the last cycle of chemo". I didn't prod further, perhaps because I didn't want to know, or perhaps I'd never fully understand were he to provide me with a depths of pain he was dealing with.
Chris was – is – remarkable. Many will continue to talk about all he did for his Greek Orthodox community and they would be right, but I feel that he did equally much to the rest of us -non-Greeks- but it was just harder to quantify in the specific ways that his community allowed. I have rarely seen someone so loved. He was universally admired. His gifts as a "bar musician" were considerable, as I watched when he played the cowbell numerous times on our frequent trips. More importantly, he was what a man, what any human, should aspire to be – gentle, empathetic, compassionate. It was rare to see him upset or stay upset with anything.
Chris was so considerate. In October, when I said I would love to take him out of the house while transitioning from Virginia Tech to Princeton, he said I didn’t need to make a big deal about this, perhaps pop in for an afternoon or so – he didn’t want to take up too much of my time, since my family had finally returned to NY. He was wrong, of course; I could have spent a week with him. During that drive to MA and back, he was the very soul of warmth, even as his health was deteriorating all the while. I don’t know how he managed to summon such positivity in the face of a fate so, so unfair. He was only 44. I would have expected and understood him if he had withdrawn into himself – and I suspect that, privately, he had several of those moments. Overall, though, I think he was furiously determined to wring every last moment of joy from this world before he left it.
Chris had something you don’t see often enough in a world this brutal: he had the courage to love. Not just his family, or his friends, but life itself. His last gift to me, one of so many, is a message I will forever treasure.
A few years ago a close friend of mine, once gave me a simple and vital piece of advice that I have lived by ever since he delivered it. They said: if you think of someone, contact them. I thought of Chris during his last week alive. So I dropped in to visit and one of the last things he said as we lay on his bed was:
“Enjoy every single moment, you are living! Not doing deals, not worrying about making loadsa money, and what everyone else is doing, just “being”.
It sounds beautiful. I have spent lots of time thinking about this in the last two years, escaping, dreaming, realizing what I have to be grateful for… even getting excited planning a possible trip to Germany 😊. Enjoy it”
Enjoy. That was what he came up with, when his already severe condition was getting steadily worse, though there was no sign of that in his words. It was the last time I heard from him, and is an instruction both vital and inspiring. Enjoy. I will, my dear friend. I will.