My friend, Richard, died last week.
He was a profoundly good man. He worked hard. He listened deeply. He felt passionately. He loved. He yearned to be loved. He was committed to making a difference. He did.
He was a profoundly good man, imperfect, and whole in his imperfection.
Every time a friend or family member dies, I experience a jolt, a gasp, an abrupt stop. Loss.
Mortality snaps up in front of me, staring me in the face, Smacked with the knowledge of just how short this time is here on earth, with these people. Short is the time we have to make our mark. Short is the time we have to touch each others hearts.
The emotions swirl and I grapple with distinguishing the feelings from the thoughts that accompany them.
My friend and I worked closely together over a period of years. Life changed as life does. Circumstances and choices shifted our course. We continued moving forward in the same general direction but at a distance, parallel to each other, far enough apart for me to be unaware of the details of the joys, struggles, and sorrows in his daily life.
Over the years our paths would cross on occasion, long enough to notice the things that had not changed, but not long enough to know what had.
We shared ideals. I don’t believe these ever changed. We might not have articulated them in the same way, but it is where our friendship and companionship was rooted.
“Every human life is the potential beginning of something new...something has begun in a human that could be completely different...As a result of that, the human condition is plural.” The consequences of this are vast: as we communicate and use language, we show ourselves to one another in our difference, and it’s in this disclosure that action is generated: we can do something to change the world.” Griselda Pollock speaking about Hannah Arendt's work
We shared a belief that the newness each person brings is valuable. It creates opportunity. Entering into relationship with our differences, we can change the world.
The shortness of my friend’s life surfaces a sense of loss. The loss of his experience, his perspective, his way of listening and communicating, and the actions that were generated.
Beyond the personal loss of a friend, however, I am confronted with other difficult truths that I wrestle with.
It feels like no matter how hard we work, progress toward ideals is slow, if it comes at all. And our time is short. There are times that feel like we are moving backward, as the forces that would have us devalue some humans, create and reform structures to reinforce this outcome. Despair can be understandable. I wade through all of the feelings, and the thoughts of judgements and determinations that rise to the surface.
I am grateful for all that my friend brought to me, and to the world. I mourn the loss of him, too young, all too soon.
I also mourn the slowness of change. I find myself seeking the guidance of elders who faced the worst of humanity, and did not give up. As I search for wise elder voices in my life, here is what caught my attention...
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” Dorothy Day
Two weeks ago, my daily writing was drawn to the title of the book "Hoping Against All Hope" by Dom Helder Camara. A quote I selected then seems relevant today as I reflect on my friend's passing, and staying the course.
In the heavy hours when solutions do not come, go spin a top: it counterfeits a game, it is a prayer: the discovery that not so very different is the merry-go-round of life and we know not when it will run down and stop. Often a confident and childlike attitude — mixture of play and prayer— brings God’s enlightenment.“ Dom Hélder Câmara: The Violence of a Peacemaker” (Orbis Books, 1970)
Thank you Richard, for your life, for your work, for your friendship, and for this moment in search of wisdom.