Monday, June 13, 2011
Death Gives Pause
Some of my most vivid dreams take place in the same setting, a beach surrounded by cliffs so high that the beach seems as if it is seated at the bottom of an ancient canyon. Gravity is user-friendly in this place, and in some dreams I half-levitate, half-fly from stony clifftop to sandy beach, over and over again, simply for the sheer exultation of being able to do so.
But I'd nearly forgotten about this place, it had been so long since my last visit, and it had changed in my absence. It still had the same air of comfortable mystery to it, but the water had become a river- a stream really- and it was running through a valley of low, hazy mountains. It felt sheltered and safe and it didn't occur to me until after I woke up that I forgot to check the local gravity while I was there. I probably could have floated if I'd felt like it, but it didn't seem necessary at the time.
I found a rock that was actually a chair and sat down to watch the water. After a while I realized that I'd been joined on my rock by a friend, or perhaps my friend had been there all along and I hadn't noticed. In any case, I was glad to see her and couldn't help but laugh a little, which made her look at me quizzically.
"Nothing...I mean, I'm amazed you found this place. It's not like I drew you a map or anything."
" A map? Dude, you are so literal sometimes."
Me, literal? I thought that was funny, so I laughed. My friend tells me the same thing in real-life and it makes me laugh then too, even though she is right.
"Dude, why are you crying? Everything's groovy, you worry too much."
There were mysterious flecks of golden light swirling in her auburn eyes but for some reason I was enraptured by her eyebrows. Her brows were the most beautiful things that I'd ever seen, which struck me as an extremely bizarre thing to think and made me laugh even harder. How could I possibly be crying?
"Hey, serious here. Stop crying."
I wanted to protest that I wasn't crying, that I had no reason to cry except maybe some tears of happiness- I'm far too stoic for that sort of thing, of course- but I felt a drop of something wet, then another- I looked down at my hands and they were catching teardrops as if it were raining sorrow. Which it was. From me. In buckets.
Damn. That's embarrassing.
But I felt fine when I woke up. I even toyed with the idea of calling in sick just for the health of it, calling in "well", as it were. There are days that I feel really good and it is a shame to have to waste that feeling at work- this morning was like that, but I went in anyway.
At some point in the late morning I took a break and looked at Facebook. An announcement had gone out that my old friend Tim M. had passed away after a long and painful battle against cancer. This was sudden news to me and many of his friends; most of us knew about the cancer but I thought it was in remission. It wasn't.
I've sometimes heard people make off-hand comments about what to do when a Facebook friend dies. Who posts what where and what does one say?, etc. I dunno, I don't really care either.
What I do know is what happens when a real-life friend dies and you find out about it on Facebook. First you check some mutual friends to make sure this isn't some sort of mix-up or misunderstanding. Then you look at all the piles of suddenly pointless-seeming paperwork surrounding you and then you return your gaze to the computer screen.
By this point you aren't really reading anything, but all those tiny pictures of familiar faces seem reassuring somehow and it is hard to stop looking. But there is work to do, so you go and start doing it.
Except that this isn't a dream. You aren't laughing inside, those really are tears running down your face.
What the fuck is wrong with me? I don't cry when people die. I'm all tough and shit.
So you call your boss and answer his questions about the database and then you decide to leave the office before someone sees you break down and start weeping, because the last thing you want people thinking is that you are some kinda pussy or sensitive-poet type. Because that shit truly will end in tears.
So you go home and think for a while about what is what, and when was when and how is how and how it is a bloody fucking miracle that you made it home without someone telling you that "it's all good", because it isn't "all good". It never is. On a human level, even during the very best of times, things are mostly fucked-up, things are definitely not "all good". War, poverty, famine- none good.
Tim is dead. That isn't good. It is hard to take the death of a friend impersonally so you change back to first-person and continue.
I take a look at what could easily be a dark spiral of morbid rumination and I shake my head. I think of my friend and her magical eyebrows. She was right, of course. I am being far too literal for my own health and I might miss something absurd, something silly and crucial that I need to be part of. Something good.
We can't stop people from dying. Or fighting. Or being assholes. Or from doing the horrible, carelessly harmful bullshit that we do to each other and to ourselves every single, goddamned fucking day without even thinking twice about it.
Why are you so angry? Why am I so sad? Mind your own damn business and stop looking at me that way. Deal with it. What do you mean by that? Go away. Leave me alone. Fuck off.
Most of that stuff I can't change, but I should work on the parts that I can change. I owe that much to my friends, living and dead, myself included.
(This cup's for you, Tim. You'll know what I mean)