Tuesday, April 19, 2005

In the Night.

So I was trying to leave St. Mark's twenty minutes into the liturgy, having once again accidentally gone to the Spanish Mass. Halfway up the driveway, I fell down and couldn't get up, or rather, fell again every time I tried. A couple of hispanic-looking guys were heading down the driveway the other way. I told them that the Mass was in Spanish and they shouldn't go. In totally unaccented Midwestern English, one of them said, "Man, they should really put that on the sign." They both turned and left.

I looked down at my watch. 5:20. I had only ten minutes to get to the Newman Center for the 5:30 Mass (always in English), and as it's over a mile away, I realized I had better hurry. But I was just walking so slow and I couldn't make myself go faster, so I realized I'd need to cut across Lydian Avenue to save some time. As I was heading down Lydian, I saw a tall, guant black dog, perhaps a doberman-shepherd mix, walking toward me. Knowing she meant harm, I looked around at the gnarled oaks, scanning nervously for a branch in climbing reach. None. I was doomed. But she just kept walking on by, with her furry, bouncy black puppy that I had suddenly noticed in tow. She strode off, but the puppy (which, oddly, looked like a cocker spaniel, and nothing like its mother), after sniffing around for a minute, locked its jaws onto the heel of my sandal and wouldn't let go. I took off the sandal but there the puppy hung, eyes roving and alert, happy-looking enough, but locked inseperably to my sandal. So I carried sandal dog up to Nelson road, where I saw a posh, well-dressed, fiftyish white woman with two hispanic children.

"I see you've found my dog," she said. "He seems to like you." Pulling out her purse she withdrew some bills and handed them to me, who, being broke until my tax return arrives, gratefully accepted them. "We're going to church. Meet us over on Eastwood later." And they walked off. I guess everyone was late that day. So, puppy-sandal still in hand, I started walking toward the intersection of Nelson and Fifth, not at all bothered that I had just taken a side street in Cleveland to cut through from Wilmington, North Carolina to Columbus, Ohio. I checked my wallet to see how much money she had given me, and found, miraculously, it had morphed from what looked like ten into about $140. Wow. Drinks for me tonight, I thought.

So I kept walking with the dog toward Fifth, and crossed when the light changed, being eyed suspiciously by the dense throng of traffic for holding a sandal with a black puppy attached. From his darting eyes, I could tell the puppy was getting skittish, and the last thing I needed was for him to take off running in traffic. I made it to the other side, where Amanda was walking her dog. I didn't know that Amanda had a dog, but asked if I could borrow her leash so I could keep track of the puppy until I took him back to Eastwood. She was about to hand me the leash when, sure enough, the puppy dropped to the ground and ran out in front of some cars. I bolted out after him, getting in between a black minivan and an early-eighties, gleaming white Toyota Supra, like the one my friend Jason used to have but much nicer. They both had tinted windows and headlights on, and I was sure they were going to kill me but they didn't. They stopped. The puppy then darted after a squirrel into the trees, and I realized now I had to catch the puppy and the sqirrel, although I wasn't sure why, even though they kept splitting off and going different directions. All I could think was that I'd have to give that money back to the nice rich lady, and I'd lost her dog and would have to move away in shame. Amanda caught the squirrel for me and put it in a shoebox, but I knew it would never substitute for the puppy, which was gone.

And then I saw Jamie standing there at the edge of the woods, watching, not saying a word. Honestly, I thought the intrusion was a little sneaky and rude, and so, a bit bothered, I marched up to him, pointed my finger, and said, "You're dead," in a very accusatory tone.

Quietly, like the dead, he replied: "Only sometimes."

This afternoon, I was trying to make heads or tails out of all of this, when I noticed the date: April 15. In three days my friend will have been dead eleven years. I don't think about him or how he died very often. It was a long time ago in a different city with a different group of friends, most of whom I no longer have contact with. But what I did realize is, be they young or old, we never really forget the dead. The loss they represent to those who considered them friends, parents, chidren, neighbors, is like a pinprick in the soul, that grows easy to ignore with time but never truly closes. It just lingers, and is joined in time by more and more pinpricks, until with age we are so riddled, the balance so skewed between the number of dead we know and the number of living, that it seems a matter of proper economy to join the bigger group. I think perhaps that is often why the elderly face death with such stoicism.

And so I thought of Jamie Best and Jim Metzgo, Pat Joyce and Lynn Dura and Chris Burrant, Jerry Wick and Chris Carlson, my brother's friend Hans, Amanda from the dream's brother, Kohler, Dusty--friends of mine, friends of my siblings, some close and some nearly strangers, and wondered "where did you all go? You were all so young."

I don't know if its easier to lose the elderly for their friends and children, but loss of the young just seems so painfully unjust. This is an illusion of the mind, of course--we don't sign 80 year leases at birth--but a potent illusion. It seems unfair to know, at 31 years of age, directly and peripherally so many people that didn't make it this far.

But I realized somewhere in pondering the question, that I already had my answer. Each of us may say to the departed, in moments of sorrow, "you're dead," and mean it as a sort of reproach. To which the dead, perhaps flattered at being long remembered, reply without injury:

"Only sometimes."


Blogger Katie B. said...

Thanks for a good read.
I like the way you note the manner in which some older folks embrace death: joining their friends and loved ones who have passed.
Not that I often think about death, but when I do it is rather selfish: What will I do without so and so in my life!?
One of my greatest hopes for death is that we can transcend the physical limitations of our bodies. Trying to maintining these fragile little containers while maximizing the potential of living can be somewhat of a chore at times.

Sat Apr 16, 03:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I try not to consciously focus on any afterlife, in that I liken it to worrying about the final score while the game's still in progress--it replaces process with goals, which isn't how I like to ideally go about things. But, when I do, I like to imagine the hereafter as being rather dreamlike, a place where those things one is prevented from doing by the pesky laws of physics become suddenly and delightfully possible. Whenever I'm dreaming and realize it (which happens occasionally; people who say you automatically wake up when you realize you're dreaming are talking nonsense, just like the people that say you never land in falling dreams--ouch) I immediately take off flying. As a serious vertigo sufferer who is terrified of heights and despises air travel like poison, it is the most utterly liberating of experiences. So yeah, what you said.

About the old folks, I like to think of my 93-year old grandmother that passed about two years ago: she was mad as a hatter following two strokes and the natural encroachment of senility. Number of people she could coherently relate to in the material word: 0. Number of people she had known that were already passed on: probably about 1,500 or so. It was time for her to go, and the appropriateness of a complete life seemed (for me, anyway) to remove any great sadness from the event.

When younger people die, I have the weird habit of conceiving it as some sort of insult. How could you? I'm certainly not alone in that regard, but that doesn't change how puzzled I am at the reaction.

People that have been gone from my life for years, some just from gradually having lost touch, tend to pop up in really, utterly weird dreams (not that there's really a normal kind). That one was especially vivid and so I thought I'd write it down and see what it looked like described, and what I thought it might mean. There you have it.

Sat Apr 16, 04:32:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I was getting lost in your story/dream, then when Jamie appeared, a chill went through me. As he said 'only sometimes', he also put his finger in front of his mouth ('shhhh')in my mind.
You woke me up on a Monday morning.


Mon Apr 18, 10:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

Hello Michael,
I was sommewhat curious if my two (that I know of) silent readers, you and Mary Gilmore from Cleveland, that knew Jamie would wander across this. I don't believe in ghosts or visitations or any of that, just in the peculiar arrangement of memory that puts things away for as long as it likes and then hauls them back out without announcement or permission. Dreams are remarkable that way, in content and arrangement. It was like this one saved that bit for last to give it a sort of cinematic surprise ending quality, even though there was no script anybody told me about.

Hope all else is going well. Drop me an email if you get time to let me know how you are.

Mon Apr 18, 04:08:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous little sister said...

Very compelling read. I attended two funeral/wakes this years for young women close to my age who both committed suicide. And it's so odd, b/c if that hadn't happened I probably wouldn't have thought much about them at all; if I heard one of their names I'd say "oh, how's she doin'?" But in the mystery of their death they give me pause for though almost daily. Why they made that choice - is it mental illness? Or did God, as some faithful believe, call them home?
BTW, I believe tomorrow is the anniversary of Chris B's death.

Tue Apr 19, 01:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

I'm not sure I believe in an intelligent God with a plan and what not, but strongly demur from any reading of suicide as a "request from the higher ups." That seems to me a rather pagan conception of a higher power that would demand anyone sacrifice themselves with no higher goal than sacrifice. A little too Incan, I suppose.

But who knows? One of the things that turns me off most about Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular is the ridiculous pretension to knowing the mind of God. That makes about as much sense as Chewie and Magic holding a debate about your intentions, higher thoughts, and plans. First we imagine God as an intelligence unfathomable to us and then sit around trying to figure out what the unfathomable intelligence wants from us. That doesn't make any sense at all.

I did not remember that Chris B's death was also in April. A little T.S. Eliot for you: "April is the cruelest month."

Tue Apr 19, 03:21:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous little sister said...

Also the month of my birth, hmm.

Tue Apr 19, 04:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Natalie said...

It took me a bit to figure out that this was your dream, but I would love to know if there is another Lydian Avenue somewhere.

About people dying, my brother and I were talking about our grandparents, we have three left, which is pretty good for people in their twenties. I will miss them when they go, but am practical that people are preparing themselves for it and that they've had time to do things and say good bye.

When someone less than 65 dies, people do feel cheated, and I like your note about the 80 year lease. Why does everyone expect that they get the long straw instead of a short one?

Some of us are tied together by the deaths of our friends Chris and Kristie, and one of the saddest things to me is the deep connection that got dusty -- it's a tragedy to lose someone close to you, but more of a tragedy in my mind to lose something you didn't realize how much you valued.

I had a dream after Kristie died that lead me to wake up and know that she didn't commit suicide. I feel reassured by that somehow, although it may be denial deep in the subconscious.

Wed Apr 20, 10:13:00 AM EDT  
Blogger barflyrant said...

I've found as a Catholic is it best not to try and understand too closely why anything happens. "Why did they have to die so young, what could possibly cause that person to take their life?" It seems to create a sense of resentment in those of us left behind, even years later in life, about something we have absolutely no control over. Rather, I look to the lesson I should take away from the death, untimely or not. Did I say everything I should have to that person? Was I a good friend/family member during that time? Did they know I loved them? If God does have a plan and everyone who touches our life is in some big or small way a part of it, shouldn't we look for the positive things that have come from that relationship and carry those forward in our own lives?

Sometimes even the worst experiences make us better people. Though we may think "What could possibly have been so awful that they felt the only solution was to end it themselves and leave behind their family and friends?" I found that the only real answer I could find was in looking at my 12 year old child and having to speak with him on a subject no parent wants to delve into. Maybe that is the lesson. What we can do is continue to live and make sure that something like that doesn't happen to someone you love. I probably would never have spoken to Daniel about suicide had the teacher at his school taken her life. But then the question arises why wouldn't have I talked to him? Is it because suicide is still a taboo subject? Do I feel uncomfortable discussing the topic? When the real answer is that it's not shameful to say to your child or a friend "if you ever feel this way it's okay. We all feel helpless and hopeless at least once in our lives and sometimes more. Things will get better even though right now it feels like it won't. Always remember that no matter what happens in your life I love you. There are things that we can do as your parents/friends to help you get through that terrible time. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Come and talk to me." Perhaps the deceased's life touched mine so I would have that kind of talk with my child. I'm sure after what happened to the teacher A LOT of parents at my son's school had that talk with their children. And maybe that is part of God's plan and the death, though tragic and heartbreaking, wasn't so senseless after all.

Wed Apr 20, 02:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

Oh Moosish one,
I'm sure Lydian is a common enough street name. I don't think I have one here, though. If I were that concerned, I suppose I could go to Mapquest and find out.

Three of four living grandparents in your late twenties is rare and a blessing. Either they bred young,lived well, have some wonderful genes or some combination of the above. You're very lucky. All our family's are gone, but I would only consider my mother's father passing at 70 as in any way premature (which lets you know how spoiled we are--I am--that I consider that a short life).

Something odd about untimely death, as you mentioned, is the manner in which it brings strength and comfort--a generosity of spirit, if you will--amongst those that experience tragedy together.

My advice to anyone stuck in that "was it suicide?/not suicide?" conundrum regarding any lost loved ones: let it go. I suspect you'll never find the answer you're looking for.

I am glad that you used the awakening experience of the near presence of death to share something important with your son. No life is permanent, but all lives can be instructive to others, whatever their duration or their end. It is a lesson I feel we too often neglect until it is forced upon us, like...papers, that we waited until the las tminute to do.

Wow, one little death post and all of a sudden we've got this really healthy therapeutic type thread. Perhaps I'll be serious more often, besides whining about politics. Thank you all for your comments thus far.

Wed Apr 20, 06:08:00 PM EDT  

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