Perhaps the most accurate portrait of Cena came up when our mutual friend Joseph and me were talking one evening in a coffieshop, coming from Cena’s last abode, the not-quite-hospital where he was spending his last days.
- I was thinking lately about one thing, said Joseph. Do you remember Cena ever talking or even saying something bad about someone?
I gave it a thought, and no, I could not remember.
Not a single time. And with him, you would notice. Because if it ever happened, it would have to be so rare and strange, you would surely notice, and remember; even if it wouldn’t change your good view of him a bit. But the fact that you can not easily remember such an occasion shows that it indeed never happened.
In a company of people talking, when there’s talking badly about someone going on – be it even not private persons, but government, world politicians, and such – Cena would quietly and imperceptibly not participate in the talk. Not intentionally and by design, though – he would simply spontaneously shy away, feeling slighlty awkward, and be quiet until the subject changes. Occasionally, if it goes on too long, he would try to make things (and bitter feelings) a bit lighter, with a joke or something like that.
If on the other hand, it was a private talk, and you complained to him about someone else’s behaviour or what wrong they’ve done to you, he would deeply empathyse with you, share your pain, and have and show all the understanding he had, and it was a lot. He would not, though, cross the line, and call the wrongdoers “those bastards” and such, with you. Either he would not comment their behaviour; or rarely, if appropriate, he would try to help you understand and forgive the other party.
From him, it’s either good, or nothing. Bad words don’t leave his mouth.
- Do you realize he actually never said a bad word about anyone? said Joseph.
I had to agree. It was totally true - at least in our experience; but we knew him well. We were among his close friends. And knowing the good Nenad, it was simply normal with him, and you would not notice this total consistency. Only now, faced with rather certain end of his life in near future, we realized that this is actually the number of times we ever heard him badmouth someone: zero.
- Do you realize another thing, I asked. Did you ever see him come to your – or anyone’s – house, without bringing a present, or at least leaving something from his bag?
Joseph was thinking and remembering, but no, he couldn’t remember such a case either.
Just as Joseph noticed the thing about talking badly about people, this was the thing I was noticing over the years slowly (and once noticed, watching) – Cena never – never ever - came to your house, or at least left it, without something to give you. Sometimes specifically bringing it along for you; or if he was just passing by and dropping by unplanned, then he would grab into his bag, which like Santa’s was never empty, and give you something, something he perhaps even planned to bring home to his family.
Healty food, meat, groceries, herbal medicines, medicines, teas, scent sticks, scent sticks which could also be used for massage, exotic oils, health muds and health clays, books, often books he thought you might be interested in (including technical literature), scripts, oriental jewelry, Buddha statues, Tibetan souvenirs, posters, CDs, plants…
When Cena knocked on the door, you knew that he will leave your house, you, your family, with more than when he was coming in. You could count on this, and it never failed to happen.
Although he had a tough life in Amsterdam, having to earn his livelyhood as a street musician, he was sending much (or most) of what he earned, either in money or goods, to his family down in Vinkovci, Croatia, to his old mother, brothers, sisters (12 siblings!), and to his friends. You could not go to Croatia from Amsterdam, by car or by plane, without him sending something to someone, with love. You could count on that, too.
Even though not having much himself, he was constantly giving and giving; often making his own ends barely meet. Everyone else was more important to him, than his most humble self.
The most we all got from him though, was his loving presence. If he met you, he loved you. If he knew you, he loved you even more. And vice versa - if you met him, you loved him. If you knew him, you loved him even more. That’s what love does, after all.
If you knew him superficially, he was a very nice and friendly, loving person, and a talented musician. But then, many people we know superficially are nice and friendly, some very so.
However, unlike most other people, he really was like that, all the way to the core, and in all layers inbetween. All layers of his great and wide soul.
One stormy winter night when both me and my darling were sick with flu at the same time, Cena called. We talked briefly on the phone. Less than half an hour later, he was suddenly on our door. As it turned out, when he found out we were sick he immediatelly sat on his bike, and biked - through storm and heavy rain! - all across town, to come to us with his bagful of goods. Medicines, vitamines, lemons, teas.
He can help someone in need? He starts with it with zero delay, and just like Laurie Anderson's Superman,
neither snow nor rain
nor gloom of night
shall stay this courier
from the swift completion
of his appointed route...
The better you knew him the more amazed you were with consistency of his goodness. If you knew him really well, you already knew that he was among best people you know, if not the best, in things that ultimately matter most, like love, compassion, and kindness.
And now, near the end of his life, we realized it was a love most consistent we’ve ever met, and by far.
I think we all had an honour of knowing a true saint.
Thank you Nenad, for all the good you've done to all of us with your ever busy hands, for all the love you've given us from your overfowing heart, for all the joy you brought to us with your bright and joyful presence. And on my part, thank you for opening my eyes - actually, ears - to the beauty of Balkan folk music, which i despised whole my life; but now - thanks mainly to you - i love almost more than any other kind of music.
Bon voyage, my friend.