David Rakoff

David RakoffDavid Rakoff died last week on 9 August 2012. He was 47 with a long history of cancer. Today, This American Life did a show dedicated to him. I always really liked him. Listening to him you could tell that he wasn’t terribly comfortable in his skin. This I understand.

At the end of the program, This American Life replayed “Wedding Toast” from its Frenemies episode. They describe it, “David Rakoff demonstrates—in rhyme—how to make a wedding toast for people you never wanted to see married in the first place.”

The whole poem is about a guy expected to perform the toast at the wedding of a couple with whom he has a complicated relationship. (It can be found on the Ceremony Ceremony Blog.) He has been hurt past the point where he considers them friends, but he doesn’t want to cause a scene or look bad himself. The poem continues:

“Hmm, Josh, well, Patricia, a few family and friends,
I’ll say a few words, if you will, before everything ends.

You’ve promised to honor, to love and obey,
We’ve quaffed our champagne and been cleansed by sorbet,

All in endorsement of your hers and hisdom,
So now let me add my two cents worth of wisdom.

I was racking my brain, sitting here at this table,
Until I remembered this suitable fable,

That gets at a truth, though it may well distort us.
So here with the Tale of the Scorpion and Tortoise.

The Scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver,
Just how would he manage to get cross the river,

‘Why, the water’s so deep’ he observed with a sigh,
Which pricked at the ears of a tortoise nearby.

‘Well, why don’t you swim?’ asked the slow-moving fellow,
‘Unless you’re afraid, I mean what are you yellow?’

‘It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim’, said the scorpion,
‘But that I don’t know how to swim’

‘Ah, I didn’t mean to be glib when I said that,
I figured you were an amphibian’

‘No offense taken’ the Scorpion replied,
‘But how bout you help me to reach the far side?

You swim like a dream, and you have what I lack,
What’s say you take me across on your back?’

‘I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do’
Said the Tortoise, ‘Now that I see that it’s you.

You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding,
There’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.

You’re the Scorpion, and how can I say this, but well,
I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.’

The Scorpion replied, ‘What would killing you prove?
We’d both drown, so tell me, how would it behoove me,

To basically die at my very own hand,
When all I desire is to be on dry land.’

The Tortoise considered the Scorpions defense.
When he gave it some thought it made perfect sense.

The niggling voice in his mind he ignored,
And he swam to the bank and called out, ‘Climb aboard’.

But just a few moments from when they set sail,
the Scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.

The Tortoise too late, understood that he’d blundered,
when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.

As he fought for life he said, ‘Tell me why
You have done this, for now we will surely both die!’

‘I don’t know!’, cried the Scorpion,
‘You never should trust a creature like me, because poison I must.

I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,
But I just can’t help it, my form is my function!

You thought I’d behave like my cousin the crab,
But unlike him, it is but my nature to stab.

The Tortoise expired with one final quiver,
And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.

The Tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts,
because in the end friends, our natures will out.”

Nathan paused, cleared his throat, took a sip of his drink,
He needed these extra few seconds to think.

The room had gone frosty, the tension was growing,
Folks wondered precisely where Nathan was going.

The prospects of skirting fiasco seemed dim,
But what he said next surprised even him.

“So, what can we learn from their watery ends?
Is there some lesson on how to be friends?

I think what it means is that central to living
A life that is good, is a life that’s forgiving.

We’re creatures of contact. Regardless of whether
We kiss or we wound, still we must come together.

Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more,
Since it beats staying dry, but so lonely on shore.

So, we make ourselves open, while knowing full well
Its essentially saying, ‘Please, come pierce my shell.'”

Silence doesn’t paint the depth of quiet in that room.
There was no clinking stemwear toasting to the bride and groom.

You could have heard a pedal as it landed on the floor.
And in that stillness Nathan turned, and walked right out the door.

David Rakoff always seemed a gentle soul. If he does not deserve to rest in peace, no one does.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “David Rakoff

  1. I loved all of his work on Johnathan Goldstien’s "Wiretap" from the CBC. I’m so sorry he’s gone. He was a wonderful writer.

  2. @Kristen – I like how emotionally raw he was without being sentimental. I wish I had that gift. The TAL episode is worth a listen. I think I had heard it all before, but there was one piece where he’s talking about the musical Rent that is really funny. He makes fun of people who think of themselves as artists without actually creating any art. He will be missed.

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