AZ and I have a friendship that is at least partly about our common career paths. We met after K and I had moved to South Florida. I was beginning a new job as editor of a newsletter publishing company. He had a furniture business. I was broke. He was making money. Some years later, fate turned against him. He closed his business and moved north to start another. He built that business into a great success, then sold it and retired. I saw him recently at his Tuscany summer home, a villa he and his wife bought and beautifully renovated five years ago.
AZ has many admirable qualities. But what I especially like about him is that he has no pretentions about his success. He doesn’t talk about the hard work and perseverance and intelligence it took to build it. He talks as if he hit the lottery. He’s amazed to think that he came here when he was 12, speaking no English and broke.
He loves his toys. And he isn’t embarrassed to spend money on them. He also loves his charities and gives generously to them. But most of all, he loves his friendships – and he has many.
We talked about the friends he and his wife have made since they started coming to Tuscany. He spoke about his new hobby – making things out of wine bottle boxes. And he spoke about our friendship, now more than 30 years old. What we didn’t speak of is the cancer that is in his kidneys and may be spreading to other parts of his body.
I am of an age where death is always looming. In another year, I’ll be entering my 70s. When you die in your 70s, people don’t say you died young. They say, if they want to say something positive, that you lived a “full” life. I don’t feel like I have yet lived anywhere near a full life. I’ve got projects to complete and books to write. My manuscript box has 14 unfinished books that I’m working on.
I won’t go easily into the night. I’m already raging against it. But when I die, I won’t be hurting anymore. Living while your friends are dying… that’s what hurts.
But AZ isn’t raging. He’s living every day happily, busy with his friendships and his hobbies, feeling grateful for what he has.
Saying goodbye later that night, he hugged me warmly. “We’re so lucky,” he said. And I know he meant it.