Every man is more than he seems. So claimed the French philosopher John-Paul Sartre. Sartre went on to liken every human death as a loss for us all, a unique life lived and taken from us, leaving us with no explanation of the loss and too few memories of the deceased. Memories.
My top two memories of Dave Hanbidge are his ever-ready sly smile and his deep-down moral goodness. They were on ample display at a monthly lunch a handful of us held for more than a decade to discuss the world’s latest ills.
Dave was our constant table-mate the last Tuesday of every month, brightening the mood with his good humor and that smile of his. He didn’t speak that often, but when he did it was always on target, delivered in a soft, dispassionate voice.
I remember a particular lunch...must have been 2012, because we were noisily discussing what themes the Dems should be pushing in the upcoming presidential election—healthcare, minimum wage, gun violence, the usual items on the Liberal wish list...when Dave interrupted our blabbermouth contingent. “Wait. You’ve forgotten the most important issue of all.”
Sudden silence. All looked to Dave for the last word. “The overriding issue is climate change; if we don’t solve that, all these other matters will be irrelevant.”
End of conversation. Case closed. Dave was a bottom-line kind of guy.
On another occasion, early on in our friendship, I reverted to the reporter I was trained to be, and asked him what he did for a living.
“I sell used cars,” he said.
Yep. I was rather stunned. By the answer and his matter-of-fact tone of voice. I had never interviewed a used car salesman before.
“Where?” I asked lamely, figuring he probably sold used Mercedes at Fletcher Jones Motor Cars in Newport Beach.
Speechless a first, I sputtered out the irrelevant fact that I spent my boyhood next door in neighboring Whittier. Unnecessary. No harm, no foul. That was Dave. Stand-up, straight-up. No pretensions. You’ve heard the expression, “he had friends in high places?” Well Dave went that one better—he had friends in all places.
I tried to pry into his past on another occasion. Sartre was right. There was so much to this quiet guy I just couldn’t absorb it all. He seemed to have been everywhere...Canada, Cleveland, Costa Rica, South America, the South Pacific, and on and on. As for his family tree, that was so twisted and tortured I thought he had pilfered it from a Faulkner novel.
One thing was clear: Dave was a doer, a man of action, an adventurer who didn’t want to be cheated out of any experience. He was an explorer of wilderness, a horseman, a pilot, a skipper of his own sailboat. And a real winner to us all when he revealed to us one day, under our pressure, that he was one of the few long-term survivors of small-cell lung cancer. All the ex-smokers in our lunch group silently shared his victory.
There was a certain serenity to Dave; he didn’t raise his voice or ever complain about anything. Even after luck turned on him. That’s when he had a heart attack at sea, in his boat, with only his wife Becky aboard.
Somehow they made it to shore, and Dave survived. And after a brief break he was back with his Tuesday lunch-mates. But he was not his old self. We watched him slowly fade over many months. On January 6 this year, at lunch, we became very concerned when Dave went into a series of coughing fits. Could we help? Typical of Dave, he waved us off. Two days later his heart quit. He was dead.
Let me close with some words borrowed from John Donne written nearly 400 years ago that seem especially appropriate to describe the essence of Dave:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.