My mother called me today.
Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, she was calling to let me know that someone from my youth had died. Reasons unknown.
I suppose at some point in all of our lives, we reach an age where we expect to hear of the passing of friends and acquaintances. That is not to say that such events are felt less acutely or that there isn’t sadness in the news, but at a certain age life’s most trenchant realities become unavoidable.
Whatever that imagined age of stoicism is, we tend to think of it as off in the future, because the acceptance of someone else’s death really means the acceptance of our own inevitable end. Few, if any of us are ready to die.
Ruminations on death are inherently narcissistic. Even when reflecting on the deceased, it’s all about our memory of them, our experiences with them. “I remember this one time…” Our ceremonies, no matter how culturally diverse they may be, still represent the living’s attempt to grasp or stave off death.
It was obvious by the trembling in my mother’s voice that she is more affected by the death than I am. I imagine that’s largely due to the fact that she remains good friends with the man’s parents, whereas I hadn’t talked with him since I was a child, maybe 13 or 14. That’s not to say that I’m unaffected by the news, only that it’s hard to process the chasm that separates the kid I knew and the man who, apparently, died alone. Half a lifetime.
It’s hard to even place a face on this death. That is, a face other than my own. The man (I instinctively want to type ‘boy’) was a year or two older than me, which in middle school meant everything but now means very little. I’m a month shy of entering the final year of my 20s and news of this death has me reflecting more on my experiences in the last 14 years and less on the memories I have of the deceased (though, I have my share which are now dusted off).
His death, tinged with a hint of unknown darkness, is almost too ambiguous to feel.
Old and New Friends
As chance would have it, last night I had dinner with a different friend from my past. Our history is comparably more recent, but it’s still been a staggering number of years since we were actively in each other’s lives, since well before I began the 10 Cities Project. He’s married with a young daughter. We were joined by his wife, as well as a new friend of mine who I met here in Seattle. Our evening spent together was largely spent enjoying local cuisine and rehashing both old and new history.
There is no question that our life choices have played the largest part in the distance between us because, despite our stances on the opposite spectrum of the faith divide, we still have an easy and natural rapport. Obviously we are very different people on very different paths, but we share a history that includes a surprisingly robust catalog of non-religious happenings. I say ‘surprising’ because it sometimes feels like I spent my entire youth inside of church walls, and that simply wasn’t the case.
It’s good to catch up with a friend and hear about their successes, whether that be in a career or (more importantly) in their personal lives. Meeting a spouse, seeing pictures of their baby, these are the kinds of developments that I take heart in, even envy.
But I know there’s a different path that ends with a call from my mother. It’s not so simple as to say, ‘Friend A made the right choices and Friend B made the wrong ones.’ Who is to say? Life is as much about what we do as it is about what is done to us.
A couple of old friends reentered my stray orbit and for a moment I can see in the reflected light just where I am, where I was, and how wide that gap is.
We’re all on a path out of youth, our one common denominator. We come from the same place, we’ll all end up in the same place, but everything in between is a confounding mess of personal choices, accidents, near misses and chance.
If we’re smart, we make the most of it.