I spent yesterday afternoon accompanying my beautiful girl to the funeral of her friend. Our
friend really, but U knew her much better than I. She was only 40, and had 2 very sweet and brave boys. Like many others I have met over the last 12 years, she fought a long, impassioned battle against her disease before finally succumbing.She was lovely and sweet, enjoyed her kids, really felt at ease in her own skin. She, like my wife, was the kind of woman the line "she walks in beauty" was inspired by.
My wife and I met her because she was the wife of a colleague. As a man who loves his girl, and a Dad who lives for his kids, I recognize a kindred spirit in my widowed friend. I tried to process the idea of a life without my wife, having to guide my kids through the unsettled waters of adolescence without her there to steady the oar, and my brain refused to cooperate. It is simply not possible she could ever die. I will not be without her. And it wasn't to willing to contemplate my own mortality. But with the image of our friend's 6 year-old boy constantly going over to the open casket to check on his mom, his photo resting gently in her hands, it didn't seem much of a reach to imagine my son, now 4, looking on as I lay there without motion, wondering why I wouldn't open my eyes.
I will remember that funeral years from now, for the weather colluded with our little tragedy to try to show me something. The sun was bright, and the sky peppered with clouds, but open to the blue canopy freshly tinted. It should have been a perfect day. Beneath the vault, at ground level, as I walked arm in arm with U, a wind both chilled and unflinching bored straight through us. Its pierce did not relent the entire walk; a monotonous, clinical ache that even the van door could not quite deny. That instructive, unhappy walk felt much like life broken down to its truest units. Beautiful yes, but also painful, unsettling, and intrinsically unknowable. Almost every religion I have studied, including Islam, has made the somber observation that our life is a veil, an illusion. Pitifully, that is about the best we mortals can do; that God is
real, and waiting to transform us into something immortal. We then allow that all the suffering we encounter (and I have encountered plenty in the last decade), and all the love we struggle to learn to give and receive approaches only the smallest part of our truer reality, a single star held up against the backdrop of the cosmos we become. We inherit infinity, rendering mortality a consummation devoutly to be wished. Assuming, of course, we don't spend that infinity on a lake of fire or in a river of tears. After all, what mortal crimes exist, which when held up against an infinite suffering would not lead even the faithful to wonder at the code of justice the stars wheel upon?
The alternative saddens me every time I allow an eye to turn to it. That I and you, and those miracles we raise and love beyond ourselves are each of us doomed. That there is just this one quick breath, fleeting, inspired, frantic, and then it's back under, into that unspoken dark we were briefly rescued from. Each of us fundamentally lost to each other; our only consolation being our inability to speak the name of that loss any longer.
We sat in our seats, lost in our thoughts, she weeping softly, I fighting off my training, which insists on intellectualizing my sorrows. It can be a useful skill when you take care of people who die, but it has no role when you are a participant in the drama - one who cares and should
care about the lost, and moreso, about the ones grieving the lost. I was eventually unsuccessful in that battle, and felt my inner light growing smaller, my mind calmer and detached in a heartless, infuriating way. I did my best to hide this from U, but she knows me too well, and didn't seek me out once the whole way home.
I didn't see her smile again until she held our daughter later that evening. M is the very imbodiment of a grand, flamboyant soul who exists to take a huge chomp out of life. She possesses the innate, robust confidence that comes from understanding we are by definition
immortals, and are sojourning together now in order to chose companions for a longer travel to be embarked on down the road. I too felt warmed by her presence and held her face close to mine for reassurance and comfort. I was rewarded with her singular laugh.
Today I turned 35.