Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some Thoughts About Death and Dying.

I was sitting at my desk, eating pineapple out of a plastic container when I received an email telling me that my friend John had died in an accident.

We can never predict what thoughts will pierce our consciousness after being blindsided with such traumatic news, and I remember calmly thinking, "From now until the end of my life, pineapple will remind me of John dying."

I clutched the sticky fork and stared at my computer screen. The plastic handle shook in my hand so I put it down. Someone said something to me about a work thing. I don't remember what.

More thoughts invaded: That's crazy, he just posted to Facebook a couple of days ago. Oh, my god. His wife must be devastated. Should I call someone? Should I call my dad since he used to coach John? What should I do? I should do something.

I did nothing.

I sat and lectured myself as different emotions penetrated my consciousness. They came strongly, yet were muted by a foggy curtain of shock and then guilt.

Why hadn't I called him at least once in the past ten years? For God sakes, I was his best man. I could have easily put forth a little more effort than "liking" his photos of martinis and Halloween costumes on Facebook.

I felt so weak.

He had been such a positive spirit in my life. In high school, we discovered the Beatles together, ten years after their breakup. We plastered the locker we shared with stringy-haired photos from their later years, and John and I traveled to Seattle to watch a tribute show entitled "Beatlemania."

We hadn't yet grasped life's fragility. Death was for pets and old people and soldiers in Vietnam on the six o'clock news.

But when John Lennon died that Fall, together we experienced the cold injustice of a life cut short. It was supposed to be just, logical; it had been for our entire lives.

And now, here I was, sitting at work, cradling my head in my hands and feeling the same anger I'd felt thirty years ago.

There's something rich and enduring about relationships which began in childhood, with that small cabal of folks whose brains were percolating and hard wiring themselves right next to you on that bumpy school bus ride. Maybe no one else could relate to you, but by God, who cared? There's an invisible adhesive stronger than cedar pitch which binds you to these people forever.

Back then, my mom told me that death is part of life, and we must carry on.

I never liked that philosophy. Naturally, as biological organisms, we're built to survive and adapt in the face of physical adversity. The debilitating, raw agony must dissipate in order for us to function.

When someone we love goes away forever, life doesn't go on, at least not like it had before. Everything shifts, whether it's the memory of my mom in my daughters' smiles or the taste of pineapple from here on out.

It's a shift that can ache dearly, yet sometimes force a loud chuckle in a quiet room.

You were a good man and a great friend, John. I hope you know.

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