Yesterday, I found out that a man I barely knew died unexpectedly the night before. I am still feeling sad about it today—but I’m not sure why, since I didn’t even know him.
This young man was a friendly, scruffy-looking retail clerk at a small store in my town, and all I know about him is that he had just turned 25 years old, and that he was going to get married next month. I also know that he had just gotten his first tattoo. He was so proud of it and eager to show me the last time I saw him.
It was a beautiful work of art on his left shoulder that combined the logos of his three favorite sports teams from Pittsburgh. And he was especially appreciative that I didn’t give him a hard time about the tattoo paying homage to his Pittsburgh teams, since we live in the Denver area and he said all of his other customers gave him a hard time about it.
I didn’t even know until yesterday that everyone called him ‘Pittsburgh’ as a nickname. And I have no idea what his real name is. All I know is that he was so proud of his teams, his first tattoo, and his fiancée. And he laughingly told me that she was going to regret encouraging him to get the tattoo because he was already planning his next one.
The last time I spoke to him, he was so alive and full of excitement and happiness, he was even chattier than usual—and he was usually pretty chatty. He even apologized to me as I was leaving the store for talking to so much, and said he didn’t mean to keep me. But I didn’t mind.
He was so good at his job—at least the customer service part that I witnessed and experienced first-hand. He joked around with his customers, looked you in the eye when talking to you, and always asked how your day was going. More than that, he seemed to actually care about your answer. If he was busy with something else in the store, he always apologized if he kept you waiting at the register. And he genuinely seemed to love his job, happily chatting with the customers, and always with a smile on his face.
I have no idea how he died. The clerk who waited on me when I went in yesterday was in tears as she let customers know why they were closing early for the day. And as she told me that his fiancée wasn’t coming out of her room, we both cried, and I didn’t want to make it worse on her by asking.
But it really doesn’t matter how he died…it wouldn’t change the fact that this happy-go-lucky young man is no longer here.
And maybe that’s why I’m so sad about the death of someone I didn’t even know.
Yes, he was so, so young. Yes, he was good at his job and seemed to really like it—I always love those people who really seem to enjoy what they do for a living.
But he wasn’t just a store clerk. Pittsburgh was a bright light on those days when I spent hours in the car, running errand after errand. He offered a brief moment of real human connection—and usually when I needed it the most.
And who wouldn’t miss a light like that and be sad that they are no longer in this world?
Someone who offered a genuine connection with another human being. Whether we really knew each other or not.