Monday, September 3, 2012

Standing There, Stupid

This mom I know from the Offsprung days, this mom I didn’t know very well but who was a vibrant, funny, sharp-as-nails presence in our little community, this mom who disappeared for a while to battle cancer and then came back, sharp as ever, keeping in touch even after the cancer returned…she died yesterday.

Words fail. And yet, here I am grappling with them anyway. It’s either that or just stand there, stupid.

I’m usually not much of a “rage, rage against the dying of the light” kind of gal. But come the fuck on. She was in her late thirties. She leaves behind a little boy. Whatever tenuous faith I may have had that we live in a Universe that somehow knows we’re here and cares deeply about us as individuals has been rocked to the core. I can only see this as a cruel and random accident, period.

I turned 43 a few days ago. While my own health is, thankfully, only plagued by the minor little annoyances of aging, I can’t help but notice that cancer is becoming less and less of a stranger. A former coworker. A friend’s husband. A favorite writer. A neighbor we haven’t seen in a while suddenly sporting a head scarf. A dear old friend from college with whom I shared some of the most joyful, raucous, carefree days of youth.

It’s absurdly and morbidly reminiscent of when we were in our twenties and those first few friends started to get married. You go to that wedding, sit at the Gen-X kids table and indulge in the open bar while you marvel over how “old” we’re all becoming. Next thing you know, everybody’s having babies. Next thing you know…this. Suddenly the “We are SO old” thing seems a lot less funny.

Everyone makes their peace with mortality in different ways. Or not. It’s a deeply personal business. I’m not here to tell anyone how to feel. I don’t even know how I feel. In the abstract, I can manage a beginner-Buddhist-like peace with it. But when flat-out faced with it like this, it becomes an impossibly bitter thing to simply breathe in, breathe out, and accept.

How could anyone possibly make peace with leaving all this behind? All these attachments that are, in Buddhism, the cause of suffering – wanting to live to see the kids’ science fairs and high school musicals and weddings; wanting to blaze new trails for special education; wanting to finally take that trip to southern France with Mr. Black; clocks ticking and mama’s sunflowers and food and coffee.

And how can we possibly make peace with this friend of ours simply being gone? With this little boy losing his mother? Is there any peace to be made with that?

Well…I suppose there must be. I suppose the other options are even more heartbreaking and exhausting in the long run. This is the path, whether we rage against it or not. And somehow, impossible as it seems, life moves us along. A mother and a friend is gone, and I’m just standing there, stupid.

It makes me simply want to apologize.

I’m sorry, my friend. What a cruel and ridiculous mistake it was for you and your family to go through this. I wish it hadn’t happened to you, or to anyone, ever.

I’m sorry life will keep moving, gradually making us more and more familiar with the loss until it’s only a sharp little pin sticking poignantly under layers of day-to-day minutiae.

I’m sorry I didn’t do or say everything I possibly could have done or said.

I’m sorry we get to still be here when you’re not. We are no more deserving of that privilege than you. The unfairness is beyond comprehension.

I’m sorry that all I can do now is to offer deeply sincere condolences and wish you and your family all the comfort and peace in the world. I hope that somehow that can be enough.

As for the rest of my friends…well…it’s like this.

The older I get, the harder it is to hang on to the “carpe diem” idealism of my youth. You can’t just go around telling people how much you love them all the time. They think you’re nuts. Or needy. Or secretly in love with them, which makes them nervously duck into the other room when they see you coming. But at a time like this, it needs to be said.

Friends, I love you anyway, in spite of all the world weariness and Zoloft-alleviated sensibilities. I love you a lot. You keep me inspired, energized, highly amused and intrigued. You’re the reason why I can’t drag my sorry ass off Facebook. You are the wind beneath my madly typing fingers.

There’s not much we can do in the face of a tragedy like this one. But at least we can be there for each other.

Rest in peace, dear friend.


Jen said...

Beautiful post Toby. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. A friend's husband, 40 years old, died because of cancer yesterday as well leaving her and her 4 boys behind. My father's best friend was diagnosed with lung cancer this week too..57 years young, an avid cyclist, never smoked a day in his life. It is terminal. I don't remember cancer being so prevalent when I was younger..maybe I just wasn't aware of it. In any case, it isn't fair and should not happen to anyone.

Teacher Tom said...

I'm sorry about your friend, Toby. And like Jen says, "beautiful."

Not that you're asking for spiritual advice, but the older I get the more I find myself taking comfort, not in Buddhism and it's idea that "the glass was already broken," but rather in the Jewish concept of eternal life in which we live on in the stories that the living tell about us. It's the kind of pragmatic, concrete spiritualism that appeals to my rather hidebound brain. And telling stories about loved ones is at least a "real" thing we can do once we've finished standing there, stupid.

DGB said...

I was stunned silent when I learned the news late last night. I'm really happy you found the beautifully profound words to express it.

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