Paul was a complex soul of searing intelligence, unfathomable steadfastness, irreverent humor, and deep, abiding love. His clear blue eyes saw right through you, unflinching and solemn. And then the clouds would part, his face would soften, he’d tilt his head, and a conspiratorial smile would unfold. It was hard to look away from that face, so full of courage and solitude.
Though his focus was on the inner, he walked this world with fascination and finesse. He was educated at Yale and Columbia, and never stopped sharpening his intellect and acquiring knowledge. He was a natural athlete, playing and coaching soccer, hiking and skiing the Alps. As a young high school English teacher he wanted to roam the world with a book of poetry and a notebook in a rucksack. But his steel-trap mind and steely resolve landed in law school instead. As a corporate lawyer, he played the game expertly, yet redefined the rules with his integrity and generosity.
There is not room here to tell all the ways in which Paul was a teacher: in khaniqah, at work, in life. But perhaps these few scenes from his life might give us a glimpse of how he lived:
Here he is at the law office. Uncharacteristically, he’s leaving at noon. It’s December 23rd, and an important deal closes the morning of the 24th. By late afternoon the heat is on; the client’s lawyers want to know where he is and the junior partners are making excuses since they don’t know. At 8 p.m. he returns, brushes past them and works through the night. The deal closes on time. Years later it was discovered he had left to buy and deliver gifts to sick kids at St. Vincent’s Hospital.
He’s on a bus, lurching and inching through traffic. This could take all day. He’s going to a 1st birthday party and he’s got a small gift bag in his hand, pink tissue sticking out. He’s everyone’s family, and he shows up when someone needs him to be their only family.
Last March. He’s slowing down a bit. The tulips push up through the ground in Abingdon Square, and voices of children waft from the playground. On a bench, he sits in silence. The bench. Sitting for a moment after a lifetime of forward motion. Taking in warmth after a long winter. Shining like the sun.
The final snapshot: a starburst of light. He’s been lifted from his troublesome vessel. The vessel that he pushed and pushed to incredible lengths. He’s throwing rays, glinting this way and that, through each of us he’s ever touched. His love endures. His love inspires. His love can be found in the hearts of all who knew him. And in a toolbox, on the shelf, in the basement, of 306 W. 11th Street.
This tribute was compiled and written by Dani Kopoulos.
Other stories, memories and reflections about Paul can be shared on his memorial website: