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A novelist I was listening to on the radio the other day spoke about how difficult it is to portray goodness effectively in fiction. Evil, she said, tends to manifest itself in dramatic strokes, but goodness is usually more subtle, and reveals itself more gently. I thought about this today, because throughout the day, I’ve exchanged e-mails with former classmates who knew our friend Gerard Faucheux, who died along with his parents in a car accident near New Orleans yesterday. If you didn’t read the earlier post I put up about Gerard, you will have missed the news that he was taking his elderly parents home from the doctor, and that he had taken vacation time to look after them. That was Gerard.
That wasn’t Gerard’s way. He was good, but he wasn’t a goody-goody. He never preened, or judged, or chastised. He was funny and kind and witty, but somehow never participated when the rest of us were making fun of some poor soul. Gerard was a rock. As another friend, put it today, “We gave him far too many reasons to show stress in that calm demeanor, and he never took the bait.”
I mentioned in an e-mail to A. that I had come late to sorrow and repentance over the way I treated people when I was younger — and not just in high school. Early in my career, I prided myself on writing sharp put-downs in my reviews and opinion pieces. I had been a huge admirer of the brilliantly cynical Spy magazine in my formative years, and I tried to model my own writing on the scalding satirical pieces there. At some point, probably around the time I started having kids, I lost interest in that sort of thing. There wasn’t a big turning point in my life; I just got tired of being that guy. A journalist I know once said that “you get to the stage of your life when you just want to go to the party and be nice to people.” I think that’s what happened to me. It was no real moral victory or anything; it was just a weariness curdled to disgust with that brittle, heartless cleverness I used to prize.
Today I thought about the last time I saw him. He was in Dallas on business, and he came to dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time. He told me about his wife Kathy, and showed us pictures of his kids. He talked a lot about his music, and about his life in Mississippi. Gerard was a quiet man, and that night he spoke so modestly about his blessings and his accomplishments, but I was sitting there thinking, Man, you’ve got it all. You’ve got the life everybody dreams of having. He wasn’t rich or famous, but he had a wife who adored him, and four great kids. He had his family, he had his faith, he had his music, and as far as I could tell, he was at peace with the world. Here’s the thing: he always was. My wife was telling me tonight that getting to know Gerard at dinner that night was a memorable experience for her. She said, “There was no ego there. He just reflected goodness. It was the strangest thing. He was just sitting there, making normal conversation, but it was so clear that he had a pure heart. It was really something to encounter. He made you want to be good.”
He made you want to be good. That’s the story of Gerard Faucheux’s life, right there.