When I was younger, before I spent many long years overseas where there were no American magazines, I used to read quite a few of them, including Reader’s Digest, in which I always enjoyed its monthly “My Most Interesting Character” feature. They don’t have that feature anymore, but its title is what prompted me to write this column.

I’d like to tell you about the most unusual person I have ever met, my good friend Rick, who passed away more than 25 years ago, leaving the world a less joyful and interesting place.

I met Rick in 1983, when Lolly, I, and the kids moved from Port Arthur, Texas, to Phoenix. He was semi-retired by then, but was still working as a technician for the large German manufacturer, Siemens, spending his days maintaining and repairing specialized hospital equipment.

We instantly took a liking to Rick and to his wife, Rosita. They were both very calm, very even tempered, and very sensible people. Some others in our crowd might occasionally get all pushed out of shape about something or other, but if Rick was around you could be sure he would get them calmed down and back to normal in no time.

I was always amazed at how well Rick could do things like that. He seemed to have some hidden wellspring of wisdom and understanding. One day I happened to mention it to him; and I’m glad I did because I learned something that day. I learned that the reason Rick was always calm, cool, and collected was because many, many years earlier he and his mother had gone through a wartime experience that was so horrifying that after that experience he was always able to look backward and realize how lucky he had been to survive something which had literally swept away everything and everyone he knew, leaving him eternally grateful that he had survived when so many others had perished.

Rick really didn’t really want to speak of that experience, and he told me so, but he finally told me just enough about it to help me understand how thinking about it had slowly transformed him into the warm, friendly, understanding, and self-controlled person that he was. Toward the end of this three-part column I’ll very quickly tell you about what had happened to Rick and his mother when he was just 14, but I would first like to focus mainly on Rick himself, and what an unusual person he was.

One thing that made Rick different was a striking love of the outdoors, one which was different from the zeal we’ve all seen in some people, ones who are out in the wilds as often as they can manage it, spending happy days fishing, skiing, hiking, or just being out in the wilds instead of at home where most of us spend our time. Mind you, there is certainly nothing wrong with anyone who loves to cast a lure into a rippling stream, or who does anything else that places him or her in close contact with nature. I can’t think of a thing which comes to us more naturally, and I certainly used to spend a lot of time under blue skies or in our forests when I was younger.

However, Rick’s relationship with nature was something different from that. It was obvious to me as I got to know him better that he genuinely felt that he was as much a part of nature as the grass in the fields and the birds in the trees.

More next week.

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