Word that Howard Wall had died came as no surprise. He had fought ocular melanoma and a host of attendant horrors for seven long years, and his recent prognosis was grim. But as a shock, yes. A rabbit-punch to the heart, followed hard by sorrow and loss.

Howard and I were Vineyard friends, by which I mean that in this, my 60th year, I cannot remember a time when I did not know him.

I knew Howard when neither of us could grow a mustache, and then when we could, and did. He kept his.

I knew Howard when he drove a Datsun 240Z, the sleekest vehicle of its day. And when, as his landscaping business grew, he jury-rigged a trailer hitch to her to lug a flatbed of his equipment.

Anywhere else, that would have been worthy of comment. Up-Island it was simply, “There’s Howard.”

I knew him when he abandoned the banjo and took up the bagpipes, and listened through the years as his playing grew from the cacophonous to the sublime.

His was a gentle soul. He was effortlessly kind.

I believe that when we pass from this breathing world we are called to account, that our soul will stand before the Almighty, and there is a reckoning. I do not know what tips the scale from damnation to salvation. But I have faith that God loves in his children their simply saintly acts of kindness.

If, when my time comes to stand so, and I am blessed with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, Howard will be there to pipe me in.

David PB Stephens
East Chop and Pleasant Hill, Calif.