During the week of our beloved daughter's graduation from high school, our beloved son's rise into another high school, an opportunity for me to address yet another high school's commencement ceremony — during this week of celebration and delight comes the sudden death of a beloved high school classmate.
Mark Barren, Teacher, Coach, Father, Husband, Son, Brother was only 51.
Mark and I weren't frequently in touch, but I always loved seeing him out at Academy. Blessing of blessings, Mark had grown into his father, inheriting and amplifying Dan's many admirable traits. Mark was a rare teacher and beloved member of the Class of 1978.
I chatted with Mark several weeks ago, before watching him coach a middle school lacrosse game. He was so happy to be coaching lacrosse, telling me that it was a career-long dream finally come true. And he coached beautifully.
Working the scorer's table for my son's side, arch rival Bexley, I was cold in the late spring day's dropping chill. So I had borrowed an old, beloved shirt from a young Bexley coach. When Mark saw me in the shirt -- it said simply "BEAT ACADEMY" -- Mark said, "Arthur!"
If you knew Mark, you know that tone of voice:
a smiling scold, sweetly yet firmly calling you to task.
Mark had always called me "AR-thur," emphasizing the first syllable like a rapper raised on K.C. & The Sunshine Band, with a smile that started at the sides of his strong neck -- a smile that had not aged. He was still gorgeous, just as he was in a profile photo in the Academy Life decades ago, a photo that had been clipped as an example of desirable masculinity in my own girlfriend's locker at CSG.
"Arthur!" Mark said, looking at my borrowed shirt and knowing me as an Academy cheerleader who long supported him on the field of play. "Something is not right with the world."
Then, just as suddenly, everything was right with the world.
Mark turned to his students and was so palpably at home, the sun lowering behind us on the Academy pitch, Mark at the very peak of meaning in life, surrounded by the love and admiration of his community and family.
The Talmud teaches that a person who permanently improves ten lives is a success. Mark's score was much higher: 10x10 and probably x10 again.
May Mark's name remain a blessing to all of us who knew and loved him.