Don’t speak idly of the dead, because you never know when they might talk back.
Two weeks ago in this space, on the occasion of our annual Health & Fitness Directory, I — at age 58 — pondered the deaths of Carnegie Center attorney Henry Hill (age 65), Hopewell-based author and former Time magazine writer J.D. Reed (64), and real estate broker John T. Henderson Jr. (75)
Before I wrote the first word of that column, I was hearing voices. It was a Monday morning after a weekend out of town. On my voice mail was a message from a co-worker: “In case you haven’t heard yet, Henry Hill has died. Thought you’d like to know.” I was not surprised. I had known that Hill, a heavy smoker in his lifetime, had been battling lung cancer. But I also had heard that he was back at work after some heavy treatment. The quickness of his death was a surprise.
I punched the keys for the next message. It was my internist, giving me a quick follow-up to the annual physical exam I had the week before. “The radiology people have a question about your chest X-ray. There’s a small spot that they are concerned about and want to see if it’s been there before and whether or not it has changed. They wonder if you have a previous X-ray they could use as a comparison. Please call me at the office.”
Small spot, sure, I thought. In the background I could hear the provocative badgering of the ghost of Henry Hill, not missing the black humor of the moment: “So there you are Rein, thinking I smoked too much. And you haven’t had a cigaret in your life and you’re the one with the ‘small spot’ on your chest X-Ray.” The ghost chortled at the sequence of the phone messages. “Ha, ha.”
So the voices were speaking. A few days later I wrote the column, and soon thereafter I heard — indirectly, at least — from John Henderson. It was in the form of a letter to the editor from a reader in Monroe, Forward V.K. Ho, a memorable name — “Forward Ho” — resulting from the translation of his Chinese name, Wei C. Ho (see page 2 of this issue). Along with the letter came a poem, a follow-up to the Henderson poem I reprinted, a translation of a piece that Ho had originally written in Chinese:
Even with some health problems,
I thank the Lord that I am still alive.
I spend my time wisely. Forgive people who had hurt me before.
In order to continue to fulfill my life, my action should be:
Love people just like myself forever more.
As a postscript Ho added some encouraging words: “Wish you more success in your career. The 58-year range is relatively young and it is the best period in one’s lifetime.”
Sure it is. A few days later an E-mail crossed my screen — a listing of events at the Princeton University Store, to which the PR person appended a link to a story about Einstein that the E-mail recipients might find interesting. I clicked on the link and was surprised to find another Einstein story. We just got finished throwing every Einstein anecdote we had into a 20-page summer visitors guide and here I discovered yet another delightful anecdote in the April 25 issue of Time magazine.
It was an interview with the now retired owner of Hulit’s shoes on Nassau Street, Peter Hulit, 82, recalling a day in 1952 when he received a call from Einstein’s house, asking him to come to 112 Mercer Street to help Einstein solve a problem — his feet were hurting and he thought he needed better shoes. As Hulit told the Time reporter: “I’d never made a house call before or since. But this was Einstein.”
What made the story especially sweet was that Hulit arrived to find Einstein holding two sketches, one labeled “Bad” and showing an unbalanced pressure of the shoes on his feet and the other labeled “Good,” showing an equal distribution of pressure.
Now, 50 years after Einstein’s death, Hulit still has the signed drawings, Time reported. I looked to the byline: It was J.D. Reed, essentially scooping U.S. 1’s effort in one of his last pieces of writing.
Soon the voices were silent. I did get another call from the living — the internist, in another voice mail. I had managed to locate a three-year-old chest X-ray in Trenton, taken at the time of my angiogram and no doubt intended to serve as a roadmap in case they suddenly had to chop a hole in my chest during the heart procedure. Getting it back to Princeton required nothing less than a personal drive to Trenton — the new privacy regulations precluded me from getting Fed Ex or anyone else to do the delivery for me. The comparison of the X-rays revealed the exact same spot. In this area of discussion, at least, no news was good news.