A.O. Sachs: In Memoriam

By Conrad T. Greenstone
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:31:00 PM

A couple of years ago I bought this black shirt and pants I’m wearing for $2—my first black outfit. A.O. Sachs, my friend, who always said, “Call me A.O., the Alpha & the Omega,” whose body recently passed from us, commented at our weekly gathering in this North Berkeley Senior Center’s Lunch Room before the Living Philosophers Group which meets upstairs in Room C from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., every Friday, “You’re dressed rather somberly this morning.” “You think so?” I replied. “I don’t see it that way. Black is a compliment of light—you can’t have one without the other.” “Perhaps,” I continued, “wearing black is a joyous celebration of life: guilt free, without a loss of self due to the loss of another, not lurking in the night to take advantage, not pedaling sins, no evil, but to call attention to the dance of shadow and light, an affirmation of the process of living-being in this universe, whatever that is. A point of view thing, I guess.” “Shall we dance?” says I. With a big grin, A.O. comes back, “Yes. ‘Shall we dance, ta da, da, da,’” (to the tune in The King and I) breaking into song along with Henry Bers (the sing-along dude here at the Senior Center). Now, this was not unusual for Henry and A.O. to do those Friday mornings; they both knew the words to quite a few songs, along with a general joining in by the coffee, tea, juice and buns crowd in the early light of the day. 

At 10 a.m., our philosophy table would rise for our meeting upstairs, but A.O. would depart to meet with someone, I never knew who, as he did every Friday morning, but would later come into the Living Philosophers group around 20 past 11. Most of the group went down for lunch at noon. A.O. would come over to me, pulling up a chair, and we would talk until 12:45, just the two of us for many months, until gradually others began to join us. A.O. and I particularly liked talking about process. He stated that as a cognitive therapist he had devoted much of his time to group process. And we would commiserate how few understood its importance rather than doting excessively on content—the way of, rather than just the events in relationships. His preference in communicating was one-on-one or in small, informal gatherings. He didn’t often offer an opnion even if asked. 

Whenever, I ran into A.O., surprisingly frequently, he seemed to be everywhere, I would say, “Aye! Lad!” And he, too, “Aye, Lad.” This was our standard hello and good bye, usually with a hug. He was big on hugging. When walking down the street with him here in Berkeley, he seemed to know more people than anyone else I knew. Smiles, hellos, hugs. But it moved along quickly. He rarely tarried—always going somewhere. 

The sign on his backpack offered himself as a listener, his phone number, 24 hours a day. Though interestingly, he frequently had his phone turned off and no answering machine. Messages could be left with a friend. 

Based on some of the professional journals he subscribed to and shared, I thought for some months after meeting him that he had once been a minister. His persona as I knew him for about five years was available, disciplined, usually warm, firm when needed, caring, systematic communication processes, self reliant, human ups and downs, take responsibility for your burdens, take life straight—neat, no boos—no fancy stuff in the sky. 

A.O. learned he had a short time to live. He accepted it and as far as I could tell he was calm and steady throughout his process of dying. A few days after he moved into hospice, he called me on the phone, primarily to say, “I want you to know, I love you, man.” I visited him on March 10, Tuesday, an hour before dinner. Martha was there. She later told me his mind was quite clear that day. The nurse came in to give him his dose of liquid morphine. He sucked it straight up, and the nurse commented, “You sure took that right in.” A.O. knew that he could request the morphine every hour, faster than it would take the four hours to clear from his system, in order to manage the pain. A few days after I visited him, he did just that and effortlessly and painlessly passed away. He had a steady stream of visitors; many friends kept coming during his hospice care. 

This brings us to some of the nitty gritty. Life is not just a bed of roses. There are plenty of thorns along the way. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have experienced much suffering in our lives, and, rather oddly, done our best to spread it around. 

Dying is just as important as being born; both have fundamental rights in the human process. I am against the death penalty, because the opportunity to experience our passing should not be deliberately tampered with without the individual’s consent. There is too much unknown here not to respect the manner in which one leaves this mortal coil. We cannot ultimately know another’s state of mind in that moment, nor can we know first hand what will happen before we die. 

I personally choose to celebrate all sentient creature’s passing, not because I am glad to see them go, I will miss them, but because throughout life our eventual leaving makes living so much more precious and valuable to make the most of it. 

How one chooses to die, if fortunate enough to have the choice, seems to me best not to be judged but taken by the living as an example to help us understand how to live a more meaningful and compassionate life within each of us which we can share. 

Inner peace opens space within us, to be able to look around in there which can allow us to have compassion for our self which can lead us to see ourselves in others and then have compassion for others, too. 

I can say that the life and death of A.O. Sachs, as I have known him, is a privilege for me to have shared—one of the billions of exquisite beings on this planet whose mystery, in the immediate sense, aids in the dipping into the deeper mystery, which just may be, standing at the gate to the secret of all life. 

“Aye, Lad, wherever we are or are not, 

I love you, man!”