Friendship Is A River

Life flows in all of us but in some it is a river. My friend Jerzy is such a source. He is fact and fiction, wise man and dreamer. He is what we feel when we are embraced.

Jerzy is a man of many times. His mother, Sara Nomberg-Przytyk, an iconic woman, was a child during a time of hatred, a prisoner during a time of death, a chronicler of inhumanity survived by infinite humanity. She prepared Jerzy for both his strengths and his flaws; she sculpted his stone into her monument. Through Jerzy, she perfected the alchemy of turning tragedy into love.

Jerzy lives a centripetal life. So many are drawn to him and so few ever turn away. If charm were a sin, he would be the devil. If wit, a crime, he would be jailed forever. Even the rogue in him beguiles. He is a story that every wants to tell to everyone else. He is nourishing to his friends like bread, refreshing like water. A visit to his farm is our Jerzyland, an amusement park for souls.

Jerzy’s way in life should be studied, a little like Talmud, a little like Kerouac. He finds value in almost everything and good in essentially everyone. His home is on a silk road for his own Canterbury tales. On any given day you will find Chadian Muslims celebrating the birth of a son, Lebanese musicians playing, Israeli businessmen haggling, a few random Poles, a son extolling the bringing of Burlesque back to Quebec, and a dog that fakes a limp when he is of a mind to. Like the sun in a momentarily perfect sky, a time at Jerzy’s dismisses the clouds that linger within any who enter. I have never seen a stranger in his house. Stranger derives from the Latin, “extraneus”, and no one is, in his view of the world. He sees difference as the prelude to becoming the same.

Shall we talk of social justice, of coffee beans in Peru, of the utopias for which he longs, of follies cherished and of people who crossed his firmament and linger. Words fly, vodka flows, and smoke (both noun and verb) of many fires fills the air. Jerzy is our Whitman reading the leaves of every season, of every year, for the whole of our lives. Jerzy lives for that intention and is restorative to the wilted spirit.

I called him today to thank him for being my friend. He recalled to me Plato’s levels of friendship: the least for utility, the next for pleasure and the third, the highest, for goodness. Goodness, he said, was the enduring quality, for with seeing goodness, friends welcome being useful and of pleasure for the other. I asked why strives to find goodness. He said that by seeing it in others, he would be encouraged to find more within himself.

Sometimes solutions to complex problems are not out of reach. Jerzy is our Cyrano but one who wins everyone’s heart. You can speak for others and not lose yourself. His passion for people melts any of the bonds that hold people apart. That is the essential truth of him and should be for the rest of us.

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Professor of Medicine , essayist, practitioner, basic research and education ; reflections on medicine and modern society

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Joel B. Levine MD

Joel B. Levine MD

Professor of Medicine , essayist, practitioner, basic research and education ; reflections on medicine and modern society

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