All you can do is do what you must

Birth and death are continual happenings, constant as the change of the tide, the movement of the Earth around the sun. The only words and metaphors that pop into my head right now seem as cliche as the last. But it’s simple and true: everywhere on this planet it is all happening at every moment, all of the time, in one way or another. At times I think, well, it is simple reality so we might as well get used to it, accept it, be calmly resigned to it. And yet, that doesn’t make any of it any less momentous and terrifying to the little ant that I am. I am filled with tremulous awe at the transient nature of my world, of moments and people, which are passed and gone so that they now only seem imaginary. Did that really happen? Did I ever really know that person? How does it all slip away so furiously? As a child, I was ever eager to get to the next thing, and to move forward, next, next, next! Now, I watch as if it’s simply slipping away so quickly, I can’t even catch a wisp of it for even a sigh. Sometimes I think it’s some paradoxical balancing act of being present and still left wondering, what the hell just happened? Somehow, finding peace within the chaotic nature of things, and feeling one with duality. Humph. Easier said than Zen.

For months, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around certain losses. I’ve hesitated to write about it here because it seemed in a way too public, too soon, and I wasn’t even sure what I needed to say. Even if I doubt many people see these musings, it somehow didn’t seem right quite yet. I wasn’t ready to think aloud about it, because everything was raw and strange. It still is, and I’m working my way through as I write. I’m not there yet, if I ever will be. “It’s OK that it’s not OK,” I’m told. Maybe it never will be. But that quote suggest that there is eventual acceptance, even if circumstances are painful and sad, and nothing replaces that moment or that person.

Every time I think about it, I feel icy hot hands wrap themselves around my stomach and my heart trips a beat or so. I feel overwhelmed by regret and fear of losing those who are still near to me, and even closer to me, knowing I would feel just as sorrowful as my dear friend who lost his partner. I cannot know his pain, yet I do on an intuitive or perhaps primordial level, because I am human and I empathize with other humans who feel sorrow and loss. Maybe as a reflection of my own fears and sadness about the world. And because I know that we all are bound to lose and experience this kind of pain in some capacity, and the fear of that knowledge, that reality, is a a leaden weight on my chest.

But how do we know how we will really react in that moment,  to the happening, to that truth? I think, will I lose my will to continue on like he sometimes says he feels? Maybe. I can’t know that now. Part of me dreads the knowledge, yet knows it is inevitable, because loss is part of human life; pain and suffering are as real as joy and bliss and those joyous moments where it feels like you’ll probably live forever. At least for another hour, or so.

This surely is not the first time I’ve dealt with any kind of loss, but it was nearer than it has been in other instances. It hit me harder this time than any other loss I’ve experienced, though others still linger in my head, seeming equally untimely and poorly explained. The death of those who are closer to my age often seem more momentous to me than, say, losing my grandparents did because they seem out of rhythm with the expected progression of things. “It just doesn’t seem right,” people will say. “I can’t believe it.” Though that was surely not the case for my parents – they likely felt the blow, the pain of loss, whether or not it was anticipated and spot-on. But in those instances, I felt like a sad spectator on the other side of the glass. I felt remorse and compassion, but did not feel it at the level they did: like the bottom has fallen out, the rug swept out from underneath, the toppling of the proverbial house of cards. It’s not so much that the happening isn’t linear when it ought to be, but that it shifts you quickly away from the idea that everything is OK as it is.

Now, I feel the sorrow of a regret I can’t explain. “If only”s don’t mean much anyway. There is so little we can control in this world, and there is no way to save everyone all the time from dying supposedly out of turn. But in these few instances, the small handful of occurrences in the last few years which have entered my world of experience, I have to wonder and turn around the what ifs? Because doesn’t this just go to show maybe there is some point that is beyond noble, in simply turning to someone with arms open? I don’t mean to say anyone has to be or needs to be or must be saved. Some people don’t want to be, simply put, and will easily or kicking and screaming thwart any attempts you might make. Self-destruction comes about in many ways. We all do it at some point, whether just through mere dabbling by way of borderline risky behavior, rebellion or not. Not all of it is a direct death wish. Some of it is laughing at fate, foolishly or not.

But how can we ever know?  Which action might have changed the course of a minor history, or made little difference at all. “If only”s abound. If I had just flagged him down and talked to him when I saw him across the street, as I walked to the post office… but no, that was two days earlier. Why would that have made a difference? If I’d just called him more often and let him know my friendship was always there, even if he never felt quite right… but no, you can’t make someone feel differently than they do about something so deep seated… can you?

If these seemingly inconsequential steps had been taken, to unknowingly thwart disaster, where would we be now? Or would it have made no difference? Would it merely have put it off just a few more seconds? The thing is, I can’t ever know any of these answers, because I couldn’t anticipate the happening, even with my eyes wide open, my mind fully awake. A part of me holds a belief in “right time, right place” but I also think that is very personal, and multifaceted. It doesn’t necessarily mean another stab at immortality, the Golden Ticket/Parachute. We can’t know all ends. We can only do the best we can, and love as fiercely and truthfully and fully, as our little human hearts can muster, aching and imperfect and wide open to the heights and depths of love and loss.


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