February 18, 2011 – Thursday morning I awoke to the sad news I had anticipated and dreaded: Doug Goldstein, a friend I’ve known since college, passed away the night before. Although not unexpected – Linda told me on Tuesday evening that it was only a matter of days – the death of a friend, a contemporary, is cause for deep reflection.
Doug and I met at Queens College and continued our friendship in Southern California while we both lived in San Diego. I was a graduate student in philosophy at UCSD, while Doug began his studies at California Western School of Law as he and Linda set up a home together. I returned to New York in 1980. Doug however stayed in California and continued on after law school to a long, successful career at the LA public defender’s office. Although we lost touch for many years, Doug and I managed to reconnect last year while I visited my son in California. It was as though no time had passed. There we were, two fifty-something, unrepentant Deadheads, sharing a few beers in his backyard while reminiscing about the past and bringing each other up speed about the present even as we contemplated the future. Little did we know that future would be short-lived. A few months later Doug was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. That horrific, terminal disease, which often runs its course in 6-7 years, took Doug a mere six months after diagnosis.
Doug was 54, an age when most of us are still enjoying the fruits of our professional and personal labors. Not necessarily a young age, yet an age which normally would allow for many more years of accomplishments and experiences. How can we reconcile the untimely death of a friend, a man so full of life, so involved in his community and so involved in the lives of Linda and their sons?
Leaving aside such platitudes as “life is short,” “death is inevitable,” and “without our health we have nothing,” what takeaways can we glean from Doug’s life?
Doug was a giving soul. Reading the comments posted online by his friends and colleagues, the picture of a caring mentor, friend, and family man emerges. Even as he rose through the ranks at the public defender’s office, Doug remained young at heart. Even as he fought tirelessly to defend the rights of those accused of crimes, he found time to joke around with friends. He was a loving husband and father. In his spare time he made time to noodle on his guitar as he listened to Grateful Dead tunes. His parting words were always, “Stay Cosmic.” Yes, Doug remained young at heart.
And that is one of the huge takeaways. Though the years roll by and our responsibilities grow, we can remain young at heart. We can retain the pure joy of living we experienced so naturally when we were 20. And you know, it isn’t even that difficult to do. Mindfulness of the present. Gratitude for the gifts of our lives. Believing in the abundance of life. And recognizing that we choose the lives we live. These are the cornerstones of the lessons we learn from the life Doug chose to live. Yes, chose to live. For we all choose our lives and we have the power to do so every single day. Recognizing that we have the power and exercising that power are the keys. This is no small order, as life can at times get us down if we let it. For to be sure, there is much in life which we might like to change. If we were to focus on those negative aspects we might well find our resolve weakened. If however we focus on the positive, on the things that are going well, on our gifts, strengths, and overall abundance, then we can accomplish anything we choose. We can prevail. We can abide.
We never quite know how many lives we touch. From the overwhelming responses to Doug’s illness and passing, we know that Doug touched many lives. Like George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Doug was undoubtedly one of the richest men in town. Thank you Doug for touching my life and enriching it thereby. Stay eternally cosmic my brother.
Consider the possibilities.
Adam J. Krim www.driveconsulting.net