A FRIEND OF mine died this week, suddenly, like a surprise rainstorm chasing picnickers from the lakefront, like all the lights on the Christmas tree going out at once.

They say that’s the best way to go. My father went that way, and people came to the wake and said, “Well, that’s the best way to go.” For the deceased who had suffered for a long time, I guess it is.

My friend was Alfred Joseph, my shopping market friend, my Sunday Mass friend. I suppose it was best that his sweet wife Ruth didn’t have to go to the nursing home hospital and watch him suffer for weeks, months, a year. One moment he was here, and suddenly he was gone.

Al was a sweet man, a quiet man unless he was cursing at golf balls that flew astray into the dark weeds. He spoke softly to me on the many times we met. I knew how to make him laugh. I knew the right words, the right timing — he was a sucker for good timing. When he laughed, his eyes changed, they crinkled and watered, he laughed that hard. Sometimes it made him cough. He was a stand-up comic’s dream audience.

Al Joseph was a man of Waterville, a Colby man of Lebanese blood, who came out of the patch of earth called Head of Falls. Al and his children and wife Ruth were among the first group to welcome us when She and I moved to Maine.

On our first Christmas Eve, we were surprised when they and a group of their friends came caroling at our back door. We hadn’t heard caroling in 30 years. In Los Angeles, carols come out of the radio, the movies or the shadows of Sunset Strip bars.

It was a surprise, a warm, deeply happy surprise. There they were, among a shivering shock of strangers singing “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” to a strange couple in thin Hollywood robes.

Al Joseph grew up along the Kennebec River in Waterville, where the name Joseph meant service, philanthropy, love of community.

From early childhood he went to Mass at St. Joseph’s, a tiny church on Front Street. It’s a nice Maronite church, where people tend to sit in the same pew at every Mass, as my wife does, in the same pew as Al and his wife Ruth.

Once upon a time, Al and Ruth got married. They got married and baptized their kids there. My wife is, as I am, a Roman Catholic, but she was drawn to this little church because the Mass is spoken in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

It’s a simple place as houses of God go, without much architectural fussiness, clouds of incense or glittering gold. But it has the big crucifix and all the good stained glass windows that an Irish Catholic, defrocked altar boy requires.

It is a simple, quiet place, fitting for a simple quiet Lebanese man like Al Joseph.

Like many, Al and his Ruth sat in the same pew week after week, year after year, as if their names were engraved on the polished wood. Perhaps in some mystical writing they are, because I’ve never seen anyone in memory take that place. By chance, my Kay chose to sit close beside them on the other end.

I, in my spasmodic attempts at connecting to the God of my childhood, sit there as well, watching the many elderly and rare millennial faithful. I observe the bowed heads and whispering lips of the Head of Falls tribal families, the Mitchells, the Jabars, the Nales, and the Josephs, in front of me. Occasionally I turned to watch Al, head bowed, his eyes sometimes closed in prayer, or maybe because of the pain in his bad knee.

For us, there is no best way to go, dear Al. The best way would be for you to stay with us, to suffer with us and enrich our lives, to come around and sing one more carol in front of our houses.

God rest ye, merry gentleman.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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