Last week I was talking with a friend, someone I had not seen for several months. She had had a very fulfilling summer. It seemed like she hadn’t completely left the season or its experiences yet. Part of her was still there while the rest was talking to me on a rainy night in October in Brooklyn.
She asked what I had done this summer and as often happens when asked such questions, my mind went completely blank. I must be the easiest person in the world to stump: ask me what I’ve been doing recently or what my favorite books are or even what I had for lunch and my mind empties. If only meditation worked this well. I knew I had done some things this past summer but I couldn’t really recall anything specific. Something happened, but it was located within a void in my memory, a void that had a definite shape. It wasn’t until the conversation moved on and she began telling me about a friend with serious health problems that it came back to me. What I Did This Summer. I visited my friend Ben in hospice and said goodbye to him two days before he died.
It has been a terminal couple of months. My nephew lost two friends; one was hit by a car, the other drowned. A sign of the way we live now: within an hour of the boy's drowning, almost all of his friends knew because they texted each other on their cell phones. The days of parents preparing their children for bad news are gone. A co-worker’s father fell to his death while hiking. A friend’s brother died. Ben died, which while not entirely unexpected, was and is still painful. During the 1990s I experienced a similar cycle. I thought of it in terms of concentric circles. I heard of acquaintances losing loved ones, then distant friends, and soon closer friends were experiencing great losses. I recall thinking that death was getting closer and closer to me and being unsettled by the idea. This cycle seemed to end with my father’s death. I’ve known people that have died since then, but the pattern, the sense of the steady approach, was gone.
I don’t see any pattern now. It’s random and chaotic, which means you never know when you’re going to get hit. A co-worker has developed Bell’s Palsy. Last night, a bartender at my favorite dive bar told me that his sister has been in the hospital for quite some time. She’s been developing blood clots and her doctors cannot figure out why. “I’m really sorry,” he added. “People are supposed to tell their problems to the bartender, not the other way ‘round.” With all this going on, it’s no wonder I can’t remember what I’ve been doing for the last few months.