My dear friend Spiro Pina passed away on Tuesday, March 17, after fighting a Type IV glioma, a very aggressive form of brain tumor. He leaves behind many people who love him, not the least of which include his wife Meritxell, his three year-old daughter Eulalia, his mother, stepfather, father and grandmother, three half brothers and hundreds of friends and admirers. Spiro was a two-time Olympic competitor (’94 and ’98) with the Greek luge team. He spoke many languages and traveled everywhere.
When you lose someone who’s so young, you say all kinds of kind things. But if you were talking about Spiro, they’d all be true. He was that brilliant. He was that gracious and kind. He made you feel good being included, being in his company. He really lived the kind of life that I could only hope to emulate, but I simply would never come close. His best gifts were wisdom and compassion.
I met Spiro when he was 19 and I was 21. He was adorable, funny and kind — shining brown eyes and curly hair. We were exchange students in Montpellier, France in 1993, which is where I also met Jenn and Brett, my best friends, but we were also from the same area of St. Paul, so we knew many of the same people. Whenever I came back to the Twin Cities, I would see him — we would go to the record store, to see live music at First Avenue and at street fairs in summer, we’d enjoy a glass of wine at the New French Cafe. Usually, Brett would be there with us too.
When I think of Spiro, I think of travel. Spiro, Brett and Jenn came to visit me in New York when I moved there in 1995. Jenn and I still laugh about Spiro doing the “$240 worth of pudding” sketch from the State as we waited for brunch on a sunny Sunday in the West Village (“Awww yeeeah.”). In November 1998, he stayed in my apartment in San Francisco, meeting me there when I returned from a trip to Oslo. “Before I say anything else,” he said after I walked in the door, “I should tell you that Jesse Ventura won the gubernatorial election. He’s the governor of Minnesota.”
Not long after that, he told me and Brett about meeting Meritxell. He was gobsmacked, smitten. It was beautiful. And it can’t have been much later that (maybe a year) that he said he was going to ask her to marry him. Brett and I were in Barcelona with at least 200 other people over Thanksgiving 2002, celebrating their wedding in a church in the central city and a reception at the beach.
There’s one picture that sticks in my head. It’s one I only glimpsed for a moment at the end of his wedding: he and Meritxell together, brilliant sunlight, and he jumping up and clicking his heels.
Spiro, I miss you. I’m sorry your family doesn’t get to hold onto you as long as they should. I’m sorry that you had to go. The world has been a much more ebullient, beautiful place with you in it.