RIP, David Rakoff

When someone you know dies, it can be really hard to talk about them without talking about yourself, and then you feel terrible for every “I” statement where you feel there should be a “they” statement. But then every “they” statement feels like talking behind their back. So anyway, here come a bunch of “I” statements about how to be a thoughtful, generous person, courtesy of David Rakoff.

I was lucky to spend some serious time with him about five years ago on a live tour of This American Life. This was my first time doing any major traveling for work and it was an incredibly nerve-wracking professional experience, what with all the famouses, not to mention that I hated flying. I can’t remember how this travel situation shook out exactly, but I ended up having to trail everyone else to our Seattle gig.

A few days earlier — before we knew of the travel hitch — I’d been going on an on about my fear of flying to David, who would listen to me complain about anything for as long as I wanted. He loved complaining, but did it with such elegance that you felt like you didn’t even deserve to have any problems if you couldn’t get them out of your mouth correctly. So, I was boringly complaining to him about being scared of dying and how the only thing that would make it worth the risk were these doughnut holes in Seattle at Pike Place Market. They are hot and delicious and sugary and perfect, but only available during the day.

Fast forward a few days, with no more mention of doughnuts. Flight lands at midnight. Cab to the hotel. Check in. “Here are your room keys. Oh, and miss, there’s a package for you.” The brown paper bag was completely soaked with oil and through it you could read “Enjoy! Love, David.” I cried while jumping up and down on my hotel bed eating every last doughnut, so happy to have this job where I could meet a person like him. There was sugar everywhere. It was the most “random act of kindness” thing anyone had ever done for me.

That is how David Rakoff changed my life: he made me want to be the kind of person who thought to buy a new friend a bag of doughnuts, and then actually went and bought them the bag of doughnuts. I’m doing so-so at it. Now go read this and this watch this.