My first encounter with Chris was on a hurried monday morning. I had picked up a bagel (cinnamon-raisin, toasted, with butter) at the bagel shop near the subway, and was on my way out, when I ran into an old gentleman slowly shuffling his way in. I excused myself, only to be greeted with a cheerful, "How are you doing today?" When I muttered the expected grumpy New York response ("Good. You?"), he responded with a "Cheer up. Its a great day", which only annoyed be further.
I ran into Chris several times after that incident. Over time I came to take his cheerfulness for granted. It was one of the few constants in a bipolar world. It was good to chat with him over a bagel or a sandwich, and occasionally, as old men are wont to do, he would tell me the story of his life. I got to know, for instance, that he lived with his daughter and her children in a house nearby. He was born and raised in the Brooklyn of the early 20th century - when it was rough neighborhood in the process of being gentrified. I knew that he was ninety and had fought in the second world war - he claimed that he had a bullet lodged in his thigh (which gave him his limp) and that he had killed nine germans on D-day, and had been decorated for it.
In some ways, he reminded me of a grandfather I lost seven years ago - someone I grew up with, and who was responsible, to a great extent, for many of the values that I cherish. There were a lot of physical similarities between them. And they would have been roughly the same age.
Chris died a few days ago - it came to my knowledge only today. He was a stranger in many ways -I never got to know his last name - and yet, he was a reminder of how connected humanity is, and an example of how nostalgia can strike you in places where you least expect it to. I do not grieve for him - his death does not make a significant difference to my life. But, at the least, it deserves this post.