11 January 2012: Lessons from Sam Morreale’s life, death

Lessons from Sam Morreale’s life, death

If you read Sam Morreale’s obituary in last week’s Courant, you might’ve, like me, been wowed by his amazing life. Sam didn’t sit back and watch unfold.

I knew Sam for his activism and ownership of Mangia’s! in Idaho Springs. Occasionally we discussed politics; but I now realize how little I knew him. But then, that’s probably true of most people we meet—if we only knew their stories.

Recently, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote “Life Reports” based on feedback he received from seniors about their lives.

Three conclusions Brooks draws strike me as particularly insightful:
• People get better at the art of living.
• We should lean toward risk.
• It’s best to divide your life into chapters.

“Metaphysics,” he writes, “is dead (for them); very few hewed to a specific theology or had any definite conception of a divine order, though vague but uplifting spiritual experiences pepper their reflections.”

That belies the common myth that when folks age and acknowledge their mortality, they become more conservative and more religious. Not Sam.

Even though the risk-taking admonition might be trite, says Brooks, it’s also true: “Many more seniors regret the risks they didn’t take than regret the ones they did.”

I doubt Sam left behind a bucket list of “I wish I had’s.” As Henry David Thoreau exhorted us to do, Sam sucked the marrow out of life.

I could’ve learned more about life from Sam had I paid attention. For example, being a pragmatic type, eating out has been merely an alternative to dining in.

“Sam was adamant about Mangia! being theatre and not just a restaurant that serves food,” his wife Cyndy told me. “A famous old NYC restaurateur, Toots Shor, was his idol in that arena.”

Brooks notes that the unhappiest of his correspondents “saw time as an unbroken flow, with themselves as corks bobbing on top of it.

“A man named Neil lamented that he had been ‘an Eeyore not a Tigger; a pessimist, not an optimist; an aimless grasshopper, not a purposeful ant; a dreamer, not a doer; a nomad, not a settler; a voyager, not an adventurer; a spectator, not an actor, player or participant.’ He (Neil) concluded: ‘Neil never amounted to anything.’”

Unlike Neil, Sam was no “bobbing cork” floating down the stream of life as his many ventures demonstrate.

Sam was at this best when it came to analyzing the political maelstrom. In an exchange, you had your hands full, no matter your affiliation or leaning.

“He loved debating with our many Republican friends,” said Cyndy, “while I cringed and reminded him it was a party or dinner invite or whatever the occasion was.

“He got so much pleasure out of watching the Republican debates, to see who stepped on what.”

Sam’s imminent passing did not diminish his desire to participate in or detract from the pleasure of the experience. It was like eating at Mangia’s!

“We had a couple over the night before he passed to watch the debates that got cancelled. He didn’t think he’d be around to see the next ones in later January. Sam quipped Rick Perry didn’t know the difference between a fart and juicy fruit gum!”

Sam didn’t gentle his political allies either.

“He was very disappointed in the Democrats lately,” said Cyndy. “Not our Clear Creek ones and not Obama, just in general as we all sometimes have been. He wanted them to ‘grow some.’”

Thoreau states the “masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Sam was neither quiet nor desperate but one who, after sucking the marrow out of life, crunched its bone.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,” writes Thoreau, “he will meet with a success unexpectedly in common hours.”

That was what I admire most in Sam: his confidence in taking on every challenge including his last.

Reading Cyndy’s description of their life at Happy Thought Ranch on Mill Creek Road recalled for me Thoreau’s reasoning for going to Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

In her note announcing Sam’s death Cyndy wrote, “Sam always controlled his destiny to the nth degree. He did the same with his death. He had made up his mind, and I know Sam is on his next adventure. He couldn’t wait to get there and from the look in his eyes … He saw something pretty COOL!”

When dying, Thoreau’s aunt asked, “Henry, have you made your peace with God?”

“Why, Aunt,” he replied, “I didn’t know we quarreled.” They hadn’t.

Sam was cremated on New Years Eve, “an irony,” noted Cyndy, “he would have loved.”

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