On dying.

17 July 2011

Cheerful title, I know. I’m writing here because, frankly, I think nobody much reads this old blog anymore, which is fine. Liberating, even. It’s been a rough few weeks-for my friends, and for me. My headspace has not been ideal. One thing that’s happened is that one of my friends who I’ve only gotten to know well this year I’ve been back Charleston had her dad die the other day. Even though I’d never met him, I went with some other friends to the funeral in Atlanta yesterday. Lots of time in the car, lots of time to think. It was also the first funeral I’ve ever been to.

Here’s what I think. As often happens with things that really don’t have much to do with you, or are affecting only at a distance, through those that are close to you, I’ve been considering what I hope people say at my own funeral. Macabre, yes, but totally usual, I think.

Really, more than anything, I want whomever witnesses my life to tell the truth about me. The people who I’d want there will already know. To think about some whitewashed presentation of my life drives me to distraction. I’m not a perfect man; my flaws are very real, and make me who I am. I’m too intense, and I start to throw myself into things (things that are usually people, and often women, if we’re being honest) before I know what’s happening inside my own heart, much less theirs. Once I dive in, my off switch seems to vanish. This is destructive, oftentimes, to everyone involved. As with many things, though, it usually works out in the end. Time passes, hurts ease, and the universe keeps going.

Of course, and here’s the thing, the flip side of that is that I would do anything for my friends, for the people I feel that way about. People who move me become my family (sometimes whether they like it or not, it seems). It’s a small group. I can’t imagine things being any other way. These are people I’ve been cruel to, people I’ve cried out to, people who haven’t left the scene when I lose the plot in my own life, the people who’ve forgiven me when I’ve sinned against them. On occasion they’ve been the reason I lost my way, but that’s not really the point. They’re my rocks, the fixed points that I know, in my bones & in my heart, will never move. They do that for me. How can I do any less for them?

We don’t really say things like that anymore, these days, if we ever did. Maybe we didn’t. But language is powerful, and verbalizing things do make them real.

This is my point: the stories we tell about each other, to each other, and inside our own heads are powerful forces. They can disable or strengthen, terrify or inspire. When stories combine, sometimes there’s fire, sometimes rain, sometimes earthquakes. We’re always changed though. Nobody is isolated, not in life, & not in the way their stories live on after death. Nobody’s story is simple.

We’re all evil, all transcendent, all considerate and hateful. The ones who know that best are the one’s who’ve been there, with you even if they’re not beside you, through it all. They can witness your faults, your triumphs, the great things you did but never told anyone and the terrible decisions you made that everyone who ever met you seems to know about. They can tell your stories, and bring you back from the dead, at least for a little while.

So, what do I want them to say about me? The truth, as far as I can tell. That I make foolish decisions when I’ve had too much wine, that I hurt so much sometimes I want to not feel anything anymore. That I can usually make people laugh some way or another, that I love to tell stories about my friends and about my academic interests that nobody else really cares about. That I correct people too much, that I hate to see something wrong and nobody fixing it. That I work on bicycles and read anything I can get my hands on sometimes. That I like cooking but never do it, that I try to be organized but my living spaces always end up as disaster areas of books & clothes. That David Foster Wallace is the preeminent man of American letters for the last 25 years and that I’d almost rather read a story about spaceships & clones than Infinite Jest again, even though I’ve done it twice already and it’s over 1000 pages long. That I love deeply, that I sometimes try to destroy what I love, that sometimes I try to destroy myself. That I can always be better, and that I’ll never get there. That if I lose the fire in my belly or the chips on my shoulders that I might not know who I am anymore, but that I try to set them aside every day. That I drink deeply, that I’ve jumped in the ocean, that I’ve run a marathon, that I don’t want to be kept on life support, that everybody dies but really, lots of people maybe don’t live at all, that I like terrible food too much, that I want to name my children Gaius & Norman & Isaac & Lorrainne & Franklin, that I want to be a better father to them than mine was to me but I get terrified that I’ll fail, that I struggle with my roots and hate that I do so, that I’m a controlled explosion that sometimes burns down my walls, that I love coffee too much, that I think God is everywhere but I despair of ever seeing him, that language is power but some of the things that matter most you can’t put into words, like a lover’s neckline or a child’s laughter or the best kiss you’ve ever had that you couldn’t forget if you tried, that I’m more than the sum of my parts, that I am the universe and it’s all in my head. That I burn.

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