18 Jan

Prophets in My Midst: The Valve Salesman

Part of a series about everyday people I met who said a lot.

Engineers can be a strange lot. On one hand they’re pretty dorky, wrapped up in numbers, equations and formulas, but they’re also usually men, and when I was one in the late ’80s, we were “guys.” So when Larry the valve salesman (he sold other stuff too, like expansion joints and oil coolers, but this separated him from being a Fuller Brush salesman) took us out to lunch we had “guy chat:” sports, women, girls, yeah. And since Larry owned a bunch of scary dogs, had a stay-at-home wife who raised his kids, and was working on rebuilding a truck, it was easy to stay manly when we talked.

But one day the engineers couldn’t make it and I was hungry; it was just me and Larry for lunch. Not being a man’s man I tried to prepare with any football chat I could muster, but somehow the conversation shifted.

“What’s the opposite of love?” Larry asked me, somewhat rhetorically.

I was a bit stunned, but curious.

“Hate?” I said, feeling it was not the answer he was looking for.

“No, fear of death.”

Well that was a surprise indeed. Yet it also fascinated me. We talked about it for a bit, as I tried to wrap my head around this, and he calmly offered more “you’ll have to discover the answer for yourself” than answers.

It was great. Not only did I not realize Larry had it in him (sorry Larry), but I loved what it was he had inside.

The next time all us us had lunch together it was back to girls, football and wild dogs, but that’s OK. I wouldn’t have wanted to share something like that with people who might’ve mocked or simplified. No, it was better as it was, almost like a secret depth that Larry and I shared.

To this day it still make makes me wonder what exactly that means, while also marveling at how deep inside it seems to fit. I’ve purposefully never searched for the phrase fearing that someone else’s definition might affect me.

But what about you? Do you love, or do you fear death?