19 January 2011

The Death of a Friend

A good friend of mine died last night. He was a year younger than me.

Goddamn cancer.

The death was not unexpected as he had been under hospice care for the last month or so. It hurts all the same. This is one of those cases of someone who truly will be missed. He seemingly knew everyone and was liked by all. He was an educator, a coach, an activist and, more importantly, someone highly skilled at the art of friendship. Among his greatest talents was the ability to listen and to relate to people of all types. Berkeley celebrates its diversity. He lived it.

I'm still in middle age, yet I find that the longer I'm around the more I'm confronted by death. My best friend died nine years ago this month. I'm still not over that. We try to make sense of these premature endings. My friend's mother said at the time that clearly God had other plans for her son. What plans could be so urgent that he was taken away from two young step sons and a two year old biological son?

I'm guilty of constantly trying to find meaning in events. Reasons for the often cruel capricious nature of life. It's easy enough to find lessons from something horrific like the Holocaust, but meaning? Good luck. If I trip, fall and sustain an injury I'll reckon I've been guilty of hubris lately and needed a comeuppance. More likely I was just being unmindful of a wet surface. But the search for a deeper meaning is constant. Particularly in the case of death and most particularly when someone dies before old age.

When unfortunate circumstances befall someone we know it is natural to imagine the same thing happening to us. Thus the death of a friend or relative leaves us contemplating our own mortality. We might focus on the uncertainty of a hereafter or assess what impact we've made on our world or what we hope to accomplish in our remaining years.

It can seem rather depressing. But it is all the nuts and bolts of being a member of the human race.  To deny that the inevitable awaits us to tell ourselves a great and terrible lie. Staring death square in the eye is healthy. Understand that its embrace will come to us and now is the time dance in another direction.

I've been watching (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not) a lot of films lately that deal with death and dying. That is to say I've been watching a lot of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen movies. Last night at the very time my friend was breathing his last I was watching Bergman's Winter Light (1962). It concerns a pastor experiencing a crisis of faith. He meets with a suicidal parishioner who he is unable to help.

Bergman and Allen have dealt with life and living so effectively in their films because they look at its polar opposite: death. They understand that nothing can make life seem more precious, more meaningful and more important than the understanding that it is finite. They do not depict death in comic book terms with evil doers getting their just rewards or heroes dying valiantly as martyrs. Their deaths and the manner in which characters face them are expressions of the reality of human existence.

I'd love to explore this topic more deeply and hopefully I will soon. However I need to do a little mourning right now. I'll try to avoid depression and remember instead that my friend's life is one to be celebrated and emulated and that my contact with him over the 24 years I knew him was filled with the type of insight and joy he spread. I'm glad too that our beloved San Francisco Giants won a World Series before he shuffled off this mortal coil. He in fact died with his Giants cap on.

Bye buddy.


Byron the afro-filmviewer said...

From someone you've never met but understand fully. My respects.

Tudor Queen said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend, to the resonance and power of film, and to life itself. My sympathies on what is clearly a profound loss.

John said...

I'm so sorry. I too lost a good friend to cancer a few months back. She is in my thoughts every day.