The irony does not escape me that I have two posts back-to-back, one about death and the other about being alive. This is how life happens — or to be exact, how it disappears. There is life, and then there is death. When you least expect it, without prediction or warning. One day your friend or parent or lover is at the other end of the phone, and the next day, the number is disconnected, the person gone. I have lost friends and lovers over the years, some to death, some by choice. People have walked away voluntarily and people have lost their lives accidentally, but the pain is always there, the absence gaping.
One of my friends, surprised at the depth of my grief over this most recent loss, asked me if it was the first time I had lost a friend. Of course it is not. I have lost friends to death and I have lost friends to (their) life (choices). This is the cycle of living. This is what it means to be human. You lose and you gain, and somehow, if you are lucky, there is a sense of karmic equilibrium.
But that does not make it any easier.
Alan Lightman writes:
I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone.
Perhaps it is because I have lost so much, because my life has come with so little permanence, that I cling to what permanence I can preserve. I have moved and moved and moved again. I can’t remember the name of a single person with whom I went to elementary school. I do not see anyone from junior high school. The people I see from high school are few and far between. I have switched coasts and switched countries. I only speak to one member of my family (my mother) on a regular basis. Much of my post-18 life has been spent alone by necessity and circumstance and stubborn self-sufficiency.
At almost 38, I am still single. I share a home with my dog, who is my family. My mother lives 7500 miles away, and I see her once a year, if I’m lucky. Most of my friends are married, with families of their own. They love me, this is not a sob story, but I am often forgotten on holidays, events Hallmark dictates as family-centric. I am jokingly described in these situations as an orphan, as someone necessitating an extra chair, the awkward third (or fifth or seventh) wheel. You know, the one without the toddler. The one without the husband. The one without the family Christmas/Passover/Thanksgiving dinner plans.
None of this is meant to be emo-centric. Rather, this is all a preamble for the fact that, by choice and by necessity, my friends have become my family.
My friends have provided me with a sense of permanence that my life lacks.
My friends have given me stability and support and sustenance.
My friends may be staggered around the world, ranging from Berlin to London to Toronto to Nashville to New York and LA, I may not see them with any consistency, but that kind of physical consistency is irrelevant. We may not brunch with any frequency, they may all be busy people, we may not chit chat, but they are always there. They are always there when I need them, and I am always there when they need me.
They have been there for years, decades even, and they know me. There is no need for explanation or preface or autobiographical anecdotes. In times of need, one of us sends out an SOS, and the call is answered. And when there is no SOS, no matter. Every few weeks or months, there is a catch-up conversation. Or there is a Facebook exchange. Or a Skype call.
It does not matter how often contact happens. The point is that they are there. They are my family. They are the roots I so desperately need, despite my stubborn claims to sufficiency.
And even though nature screams that nothing lasts, I always hope that it will, that these people will, because they are all I have to hold myself together, to anchor myself. They are the strength against which I can push to move forward. And futile and naive as it may seem, I pray they will always be there. And when they are not, when they disappear or fade away, I feel as shaken as a tree whose roots have been destroyed.