I want to tell you about a man named Dave. He was a New Yorker, and for a time, I and a number of friends would see him daily in Washington Square Park. He was a gentle person and one of the most considerate individuals I have ever met. His concern was always for others, and at one point, when I was going through a trying time, he consoled me daily, always asking for a update the moment he saw me.
He had a comforting aura about him. At a surface level, Dave looked quite ragtag, very poor and eccentric. His wardrobe was very limited, and he wore threadbare shirts and torn belts. He was always overdressed, often with sweaters and a down jacket, even in warm weather. He carried old and worn plastic shopping bags that were stuffed - I have no idea what he was carrying. At times, he could be mistaken for someone homeless.
He had a job, although he never spoke of his work or home. One of our group of friends said he was told by Dave that he was a clerical worker in a hospital. He lived alone, had no family and other than his park forays, was a recluse.
I introduced him to the New York Times crossword puzzle, sometimes did them together. Although he was not a native English speaker, he did well. It became very clear to me over time that this man was very intelligent and well read. I just had a gut feeling that there was much more to this man than met the eye.
Over time I began to learn a few details of his life. He was a Russian Jew and had served in the Israeli army. On another occasion, while discussing classical music, he told me that he had studied music formally for seven years. Discussing specific pieces such as the Chopin Etudes, e.g., it was clear that these claims were not likely to be fabrications, and I hoped to hear him play some time.
One day, we learned that he had a stroke. He was never to be the same again. Speaking to him on the phone was quite upsetting, as he was barely able to converse at all. Soon after, we were told that he had a brain tumor. Our belief was that he had known about this for some time yet carried the burden silently.
A friend told us that he had learned the most astounding thing. While visiting Dave in the hospital, he met two of his coworkers, who informed him that Dave was much more than a clerical worker. In fact, Dave was a research scientist with two PhDs in Pharmacology. The last time I saw him was in his room at Mt. Sinai, when I went to visit him with a friend. It was particularly sad seeing him with a shaved head and surgical scars everywhere. He was unable to say anything other than yes or no to questions asked. I asked him if it was true that he had two doctoral degrees. He said yes.
Dave died on November 4, 2009. I attended his memorial service. One story followed another from his coworkers about his selflessness and humility. I also learned that in addition to his research work, his interest in music was not casual at all - he performed as a concert pianist. He may have had no family or close personal friends here, but he is missed and loved by all whose lives he touched...
Note about the photo: Mount Sinai Hospital was founded in 1852 and is one of the oldest and largest teaching hospitals in the United States. In 2009, it was ranked as one of the best hospitals in the United States by U.S. News & World Report in 11 specialties.