08 July 2008

Brian Greenbaum

Photograph by Catherine Karnow©

In returning to Providence, I was struck by Brian’s absence. An immense party at Brown, with so many of his friends in attendance! He should be here!

It’s not only at Brown, not only at parties that I miss him. If he’d lived, it’s all but certain that he’d have visited me in Paris at least 15 times by now, and my experience of this city would have been all the richer for it. He filled whatever space he was in, charged every atmosphere with excitement and possibility.

And it’s curious and somewhat troubling to consider that, of all the people I have known, so many of those who lived life most exuberantly, passionately, and fully are those who have died youngest: Brian, David Dornstein, Rena Grant, Chris Blazakis. The only personalities I know comparable to theirs who have lived into ripe old age are Madeline Gilford and Gabriel Bacquier.

I’m not sure what this means. Is it merely a perception, an easy categorization of otherwise incalculable losses? Did these young people live more intensely because they knew they’d die sooner? Or what? Age has not brought me sufficient wisdom to understand.

“Brian says ‘hi!’”
Photograph by Catherine Karnow©

Brian didn’t make friendships, he struck spiritual partnerships, and when he died, he left a great many grieving widows. I wasn’t asked to see him at the end, because there were too many others at his bedside. I was unable to attend his memorial, yet I’m not sure I’d have felt welcome sharing my feelings — so many others knew him so much better than I, that I surely would have deferred to them. Yet he was important to me, and I remember our dinners and parties and road trips, always surrounded by other friends, as if they were a special gift from him to me alone.

He was a friend at an especially formative time in my life, and as I discovered new ways of thinking and of being, I discovered every time, without exception, that Brian had gotten there first. Most often, he’d already told me about it, too, so that I couldn’t in any way make claim to independence.

During Reunion Weekend, Cathy Karnow and I stopped at a little memorial walk along George Street. There’s a brick there with Brian’s name on it. It’s about the least likely memorial possible for a man who was in constant motion, but there it is. And it made up, in its own clumsy way, for the brick-hard reality that, no matter how many times we thought we saw his bobbing head among the dancers, no matter how often we thought we heard his raucous laughter, Brian was not where he should have been.