Sunday, November 18, 2007

MLS Cup 2007 was at RFK, so I went to Brooklyn

My sport is soccer, and I have a third row midfield season ticket to DC United. United had the best record during the regular season, but got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. I had already purchased a ticket in my usual seat for this year's MLS Cup, which was being held here, but I didn't go.

My cousin Jeff has been a stage manager for various off-Broadway theater productions, and while someone might mistake that fact for his occupation (it isn't -- he's a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, a challenging task to say the least), it's much more accurate to say that role perfectly describes him. He's the guy behind the scenes who gets things done. That wasn't why I asked him to be my best man (technically he was also the maid-of-honor), but when I got sick the Friday before my Sunday wedding, that talent came to the fore when he and Kathy took care of the last-minute details. As it also did when little things needed taking care of at the wedding.

It's been a tough couple of months for Jeff. His father (my Dad's brother, Paul) died in September after a four-year battle with cancer. And for the last few months of his father's life and also during the aftermath, Jeff was shuttling down to Brevard, North Carolina, missing work to be there, helping his stepmom and being there for his sister. Both my Dad and I encouraged him to grieve for himself rather than continue his role as stage manager even then, but for Jeff that was easier said than done. There was a memorial service in Brevard at the end of October, to which Kathy, Emelia, and I went. As Kathy put it so succinctly, he's always been there for us, we should be there for him. During the ceremony, Jeff broke down when he was supposed to recite something, but later recovered in order to give an incredibly moving, eloquent, funny, and wholly spontaneous reflection on his father.

A couple of weeks after the memorial, Jeff's mom (my Aunt Faith) fell, shattering her left ankle, tearing all the ligaments and breaking her leg. As her only child, Jeff immediately dropped everything to be with her in New Jersey (Uncle Paul and Aunt Faith divorced when Jeff was a child), once again missing school, even though he had already fallen quite behind. After Aunt Faith's surgery, Jeff sent out an update to his friends, which said, among other things,
Beyond that my freaking birthday is next saturday and I could really really use time to see a bunch of people. I was just adjusting to my dad's death and trying to get myself back together this past weekend when i got the call about my mom.
It may not sound significant, but those two sentences were remarkable in that Jeff asked for help, rather than giving it. I gave my MLS ticket to a friend in the hope that he could sell it, and e-mailed Jeff's old roommate and best friend, Tony. I set it up with Tony to stay with him and his wife, and didn't tell Jeff I was coming. Tony suggested Jeff come over early to go out for dinner before heading to the bar where everyone was to meet up. Jeff's double take expression when he saw me was priceless, and the entire evening, from dinner on, was great. Tony observed that it was the most relaxed he had seen Jeff in about a year.

As for me, it was great to know that I was able to give something to him, and I didn't miss the game at all.

Jeff with Emelia in North Carolina