I know I’m not alone when I say there’s so much to say about Omar that it’s hard to know where to begin. When I was thinking about what to say today, I remembered how at Noor’s wedding Omar was jotting down a few things before his own toast to the bride and groom. And while I thought he’d be completely under-prepared, I was amazed at how effortless his speech was when he got up there. He was warm and funny and charming and the words just flowed out of him unscripted. Needless to say, Omar, I can’t do you justice – but then, there aren’t too many people who can.
I first met Omar this month 24 years ago. While we didn’t become close friends ‘til later, I remember I admired him tremendously, almost from day one. He was brilliant and funny and confident, with an adventurous spirit that I’d never seen in my entire 15 years. That brilliance was completely unselfconscious: He’d often talk about things I’d be utterly clueless about, but then mispronounce the words in a way that provided endless fodder for ribbing. And Omar, he’d just laugh it off with his bright smile in his good natured way. Because when it comes to being good natured, Omar defined the word. For someone with as keen an intellect as his, he had as much compassion and humanity as I’ve ever seen in anyone. I know none of us will ever forget his warmth, his boundless generosity, his genuine interest in, and caring for, others. He was a friend you could rely on, and a friend you always learnt something from.
And I think that’s what I’d like to talk about: what I learnt from Omar. It’s hard to pick out just a few things, but I think I learnt about honesty, about integrity, about selflessness and intellectual curiosity. I learnt to appreciate his – and Meherwan’s – remarkable and often bizarre sense of humor. He knew how to peel away the fake stuff from the real, and I think I learnt something about that too from him.
I also learnt something about fearlessness. Omar not only thought originally and independently, he also acted on it. From his living in France without knowing a jot of French, to entering Mexico by a highly dubious route (which Meherwan can tell you all about!), to fighting a formidable disease, the man had no fear. He would break down irrational societal barriers to get to the essence of things. He was a problem solver in that way. But at the heart of it, he still had the utmost respect for people, even when their views were a world apart from his. (Fortunately, Meherwan and I agreed with him on most of the basic things!) On a personal level, when Meherwan and I came out to him many, many years ago, he taught us how loving, caring, supportive, understanding – and cool – a straight male friend could be. More recently, he’d been excited at the prospect of Meherwan and my getting legally married in California, and I know it was as much about equal human rights for him as it was about what might make us happy. (And of course the prospect of finding a mullah and a dasturji who would conduct the wedding was probably the most exciting part of all!)
More than anything, Omar was very much a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. And he certainly lived his life way more than half-full. (I think he’d be tickled for me to acknowledge that his life was as colorful as his ties, and I don’t think he’d disagree with me there.) I remember once when he was in the hospital after surgery under intense pain meds, he kept saying how lucky he was to have so many people in the world who loved and cared about him. (And then of course he proceeded to count off all of them!) So I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt from Omar is how to focus on the positives in life: Instead of thinking of what we’ve lost, to think about what a good thing we had in him for so long.
Omar, I’ll try to forget about the insanity and injustice of your departure, but focus instead on how insanely rich you made all our lives by being in it. And I’ll try to think that if I never told you exactly how much I’d miss you when you’d be gone, that you really always knew. Omar, you taught me grace. You taught me respect. You taught me how to not take myself too seriously. You taught me about fighting for what you believe in. You taught me about fighting for life. Long before your battle with cancer, and during it, you taught me about having an undying enthusiasm for life in all its varied colors. Thank you, Omar for all of that. From me, and from all of us. We love you very much.