My best friend, Horace Smith, died today. My dad had died when I was young. After that, as an adolescent, my life spiraled out of control, getting into all kinds of trouble with the law, abusing drugs and being hospitalized twice for reckless behavior. But all that changed, when I met Horace in 1979. Hardly knowing him, I went to his home in Clifton Park, New York, knocked on the door, and pleaded with him to help me put my “wounded” life back together again, finding a meaning and purpose to it, since he was a Christian Minister. He took me into his home and allowed me to live with him for a year. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, which lasted 37 years.
Horace was celibate, never having married. But he absolutely, unequivocally and categorically had a family, because I “adopted” him into my family! For me, he had become like a father. He performed my wedding ceremony in 1984. My wife, Louise, had become his “daughter-in-law” and my sons, Nathanael and Jonathan, had become his “grandchildren.” For over 30 years, he was with us for the holidays and special occasions. I learned from him that family was not merely a biological or blood-related connection but also — and, at times, even more importantly — a spiritual or soul-related connection.
Horace was my mentor. He would sit in his home with me for hours on end, preparing me to take and pass my test for the G.E.D. He was a self-educated scholar who could read and translate Hebrew, Greek and Latin with ease. That is why whatever positive influence I may have had, am having and will have with my students, I attribute to his teachings and the example he set for me, molding my character and life.
Today, I mourn Horace’s passing. The world seems so radically different without him in it: sights and sounds around me lack substance. Even the taste of food is not the same. There is, indeed, a void within me, because I lost my best friend. But that is the way it should be, because it is the “price” a person must “pay” for loving another human being and it is “worth” it, infinitely worth it!
The last words of Horace to my family were “Love you all” and the reply has always been the same for over 30 years: “We love you, too, Horace!” Without a doubt, love is, indeed, the greatest of all virtues! Without it, life is a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I now know existentially something of what Viktor Frankl experienced, when, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he reflected on the love he had for his wife, saying,
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
I love you, Horace! You have gone “home” to be with your God and so,
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16b-17a, NIV).
On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful, eternally grateful, for having had Horace Smith in my life. Next month, there will be a memorial service for him. In his Will, he directed that his ashes be given to me. It shall be an honor to receive them and when I die, he shall be buried next to me.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), pp. 48-49. Italics are the publisher’s.