Tuesday, July 09, 2013

And so I drink the muddling draft and sail until I wake

This is a post about death and grief, so I encourage you to postpone reading it if you're having the sort of day that makes this sort of post unwelcome. It ends optimistically - after a fashion - if that matters.

I spent a large part of this afternoon and evening glued to my computer, reading eulogies and testimonies about a man I never met. Ryan Davis was the co-founder and contributor to a video game news site (giantbomb.com) that I've followed for a year or two. Born in 1979, he was about my age: we both were in our thirty-fourth year on the first of this month. He was married at the end of June, and he died on July 3rd in the afternoon.

I never met him. It is most likely that over the course of my life, I would never have met him. The only reason I've even heard of him is because I download a podcast from the website. It is lengthy by podcast standards, usually landing between two to three hours each week. I plug it in while I drive or exercise. Because it's three hours of the same few guys talking about the state and the business of video games, you get a real sense of their personalities. Even so, I was moved and caught unawares of how hard I took the announcement of his death today.

I cried. Never very much at one time, but tears did roll down my face. And it kept happening. I learned of it shortly before my afternoon lesson and I sort of sat at my computer. I did have the visceral reaction of saying, "No..." softly out loud when I read the headline. Surely it's some joke! After all, the guy got married last week.

But the sadness is true. His wife posted that they had been married five days. Five. My anguish threatened to make me vomit. How could... That just is not fair.

And this sort of thing is why I will never accept the existence of a god. No matter how much hand-waving occurs to say stuff like "beyond our ken" and "gone to a better place," there is no respite for the people left behind. His wife, left without a loving husband after five days.

I was just about stumbling along until his father, thanking everyone for the outpouring of grief and fond memories, started posting pictures of the boy who was his son. I. Just. Couldn't.
I took a picture of my face during one of the more calm moments, intending to use it as the cover picture for this entry. In the end, I chose not to. My own face frightens me - the depth of feeling in my reddened eyes. The way my face seems to lengthen down like a strange mask when I'm sad.

And then my feelings just made me angry. Why was I getting so worked up over this? Yes, I was familiar with him, but not that familiar. I didn't want anyone to know, because I couldn't stand the thought of someone saying, "I'm sorry for your loss" or attempting to commiserate with me when I wasn't sure I had the right to be miserable and I was pretty sure I hadn't lost anything.

Then I remembered the similarities. About the same age. He also wrote about needing a CPAP sleep mask. Both overweight. Both probably not particular about consuming good or bad foods.

It was the tribute articles that got me. Specifically, the one titled: "You may not have been his friend, but he was yours." May I die fortunate enough to have the same said about me. A pile of articles from the industry, each emphasizing that the garrulous loudmouth from the podcast was exactly the same person in life. Each one struggling to write an article they never even dreamed they'd need to assemble.

I can imagine that some officious people, reading this entry, will say, "He's not the first nor the most important to die on a particular day. Don't forget everyone else!" I don't know why they are always saying things like that, but they sure do keep plucking at that thread.

I know.

I know that this rates very low on the importance scale, except for the small crushing tragedy to friends and loved ones. He was never going to be President or Pope. The world would not turn with his reviews of the new gaming consoles coming this fall. He's just a guy, one of many who died on July 3rd of this year. These are all things I know. I know that death is the wolf at the door who waits for us all. You don't need to tell me that the world suffers too.

What I don't know is why certain deaths *mean* more than others. Proximity? Association? Empathy? Circumstance? Sure.

I don't need to be told that life sucks for a lot of the people a lot of the time. Everyone gets that point. I've never understood why some people have to bring down others who seem on the verge of lifting up. I've known people who do it to themselves, tramping down their anticipations and hopes because that way they won't be *as* disappointed.

What a crock of shit.

The only way is to hold your head high and enjoy life. Because the end may come in two minutes, or it could come in seventy years. There's no way of knowing. And yes, the world will disappoint us - time and again it will. That is the bargain we make with time. Yes, now might suck, but I'll raise you tomorrow instead!

And so I cried today. Partially at the unfairness of life, partially at my own relief that it wasn't me who died. And tomorrow, learning from the example, I'll try to do better at everything. That's what we need to do when faced with death. We need to pick ourselves up, wipe off the tears, and continue walking forward.

If we're lucky, the dead will never leave us empty. They'll sit on the shelves of memory while the pain fades and the good parts shine out.

So after I spent the afternoon with tears, I poured a glass of whisky. Before I drank it in one long pull, I gestured with it to a nearby wall. "To you," I said quietly. Not because I thought the spirit was nearby: I did it because I was the only one there. As C.S. Lewis said, we don't pray because it changes God - we pray because it changes us. And prayer has a lot in common with whisky. People prefer one or the other, and they generally think that the sorry bastards on the other side could use a lot more of whatever they lack.

Tonight, I drank to the memory of one man. I continue walking with the best of what I know, the example he sets in death and in life, and the greatest hope for the lands beyond the next hill. And the next after that. Again, again, a thousand times again.

1 comment:

  1. I had a very similar reaction when Aaron Swartz died back in January. I don't know what brought it on. One thing kept going through my head:

    "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

    It only reinforced my own feeling that death is the greatest evil. There can be no greater loss than a mind extinguished. There is no greater injustice and no finer example of the complete senselessness of the universe. The only lesson to learn is to embrace that much more those we can while we can.