I've been thinking about death a lot, lately. Not in a goth way, I assure you. (Remember goth, the old emo?) Although, I am pretty goth, without even trying, so it may be more goth than I am aware, my thinking, surrounded and filled by gothness as I am. I mean, I wore nothing but black clothing throughout high school. "That, my friend, is a dark side." The subject of death has been brought up repeatedly by Yours Gothicly here at the Aviary; twenty-two times to date (not including this-here entry), to be exact. I've waxed a little philosophical about the subject, but for the most part my addresses to the final spectre have to do with how I believe it relates to comedy, and the laughter impulse. In brief, I believe most of our spontaneous laughter arises from reminders that we are mortal; that some day, each of us will die.
Told you I was goth.
Be that as it may--or may not--my belief in it has gone a long way toward helping me cope with the idea of confronting my own death. Now, I've never even been close, by either disease or incident, so far as I was aware. So the next is to be taken with a grain or two of salt. I've been thinking lately that our awareness of death is also a big part of what drives humans, what makes us so ambitious and, often, so anxious. I think you'd find a corollary between people who are generally anxious and driven, and those that are philosophically engaged in resisting death. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that whatever Zen-ish approach I've mastered for my own life is a direct result of diminishing my own fear of death. Or, to give myself less credit, perhaps it's a result of living in a more complete ignorance of my own death. As I get older, and my eventual death becomes more conceivable to me, I have to relearn to accept that idea, over and over again. And in many ways, I feel much more driven now that I've gained a little more perspective on how quickly I could exit life's stage. When I was younger I tended to dream bigger, but none of it seemed especially urgent. It would come eventually. Now I dream (a shade) more realistically, but it's got a greater sense of urgency. Because now, I only see one thing as truly inevitable.
In the coming six months or so, I'm involved in no less than four weddings. It's true. I've got ones to attend in September, October and January. Oh, and one in November that I ought not to miss, either. There are even more going on than these, others in my extended circles of friends, at the same time. I don't know why, but these things always seem to come in cycles of density and naught. (We certainly didn't plan it that way.) Marriage is one of those things that it seems to me each person comes to in his or her own time; kind of the most amazing collaboration possible. It depends upon a convergence of so many factors that it's a little amazing to me that it ever happens, much less happens so often, now-a-days. I mean, we do get a better deal on taxes and such, but marriage isn't necessary to the common person's survival the way it historically has been. Apart from some antiquated societal expectations, marriage has very little excuse for being anything other than an independent, individual choice. There's virtually no reason for a fairly stable person to get married into any situation that's short of perfect for us. We can hold out for love, looks, money, sexy English dialect -- whatever your criteria. It is in no way assumptive, or inevitable. In this way, marriage becomes even more meaningful; it is a matter of choice.
As in all exploits human, marriage is motivated somewhat by self-awareness, and death. No one wants to die alone. Even if that last walk is ultimately up to you, you want someone there holding your hand just before you take it, if possible. There are many human relationships that can buy one insurance toward that circumstance, but marriage is the most likely gold standard.
This Monday, a funeral will be held for someone who was very dear to me. Her body relented to a long battle with cancer last Monday morning. She was the mother of an exgirlfriend of mine, so my connection with her and her family is not the most frequent. It's a rare and valuable connection for me, though, in that in spite of the disappointment and pain of the romantic relationship and its conclusion, my relationship with the family continued in a spirit of mutually cherished love and respect. They're a family strong in Christian faith and, though I don't see everything the same way that they do, I know their faith in God is part of the reason I have had a continued loving relationship with them. Particularly with the mother. She was a shining light. I know that sounds like something everyone says about their loved ones lost, but I couldn't mean it more specifically to her. Judi's sole motivation during the time I knew her, it seemed, was for the joy and sense of love in absolutely everyone around her. She was loving, warm, funny, a believer, and though I've no doubt she's gone on to that place she believes in, to be unified in that same spirit of love she embodied, it's just not fair that she's left us.
A little over a year ago, I saw Judi again for the first time in years. The occasion was her daughter's wedding, and I ended up having to really bust-ass to get down to North Carolina for it. My flight got cancelled at the last minute, and a mutual friend and I ended up renting a car in Astoria ("Will you be staying within the tri-state area?" "We'll try.") and driving fourteen hours with traffic and weather issues. A lot of people questioned the wisdom of my actions. Not the rental car, mind you -- no one knew about that until afterward. No, it was the idea of attending an exgirlfriend's wedding. There were no qualifying factors to her "exgirlfriend" status in my life: we hadn't been friends first; we had been a serious, long-term relationship; the break-up had been painful. I was surprised to have been invited, and I gave serious consideration to graciously declining. To my memory of it, Judi's struggle with cancer began in the interim between her daughter's engagement and wedding day, so I knew of it when I got my invitation. She's the first person I had known with malignant cancer. I wanted to see her and the rest of the family again anyway, I admit, but I wanted to see her more upon hearing that news. It was a good justification for my actions, but I had no experience to apply to the concept that her life was truly in danger. To put it another way, I made a good decision almost by accident, because Judi's death did not at the time feel like a real possibility to me. When I did see her at the reception, her voice was just a whisper--a result of the extensive chemotherapy she had been undergoing--but she was softly ebullient with joy, for her daughter's marriage of course, and also, somehow, to see me again. We didn't talk much, but we had ourselves one hell of a significant hug.
We never know when we might be seeing someone for the last time in our lives. It can be easy to forget that, in this day and age, with all the myriad ways we have not only of staying "in touch" but "reconnecting" with people from our past. It can also be easy to remember it, and allow it to drive us into anxiety and a useless blind-fighting of inevitability. Perhaps, though, this awareness can allow us instead to appreciate our hellos and goodbyes a little more. Maybe we can come to never take a hug or handshake for granted, or to reject the notion that anything is done for us, or obligatory. Every action in our lives, every person we love, can be a choice. Hopefully, a true and meaningful choice. That's what I'm going to try to remember. Judi, I think, would appreciate that idea.