Three short stories about dying, loving, and living.
A friend, in her 40s, in a senior position with a federal agency in Washington DC, loved food and travel. She went to Istanbul and sent me a load of pictures of the wonderful things she was eating there. A while later I sent her an email asking how the trip ended. She didn’t respond. So, I sent her another email. Still no reply. One day, while a bit bored, I searched on Google about her and discovered that she had been found dead a few months ago. No further explanation, and no way to find out more. It was so weird I can’t even begin to feel sad. I realize death has no plan and little foreshadowing. And my nomadic lifestyle means that I know way many more people than just those physically close to me. So there is nothing unreasonable about finding that someone you haven’t heard from in a while is no more. Still, it is a weird feeling, a helplessness where you just watch the world unfold and you can’t really do anything about it. Maybe that is a new normal. I can be in touch with friends in distant places I may not even be able to locate on a map. This dissolving of distance, it is almost disembodying, like a voice without a source. If one were next to me, and something happened to that person, I could hold and comfort, I would know the other person is there and the other way around. Now there nothing more than a note, on Google.
Learning about the death of my friend via Google made me realize that while it is wonderful that technology allows us to remain in touch with those so far away, humans still need proximity to understand the world. And, when you find someone you love, you hold on, you stay close, you make yourself available.
Another friend, much younger, just a bit older than my daughter, is very involved with the current war-related refugee crisis. Before I met her, news about the refugees, for me, was just news in the papers. After meeting her and learning about her work, it all became more real. Now I knew someone who first-hand has experienced this nightmare. I worried about her and told her to take a break, to not get burned out, to not let the bad things get to her head. Well, it was inevitable. She had to go to the hospital to see a psychiatrist, and is, fortunately, now recovering. Still committed to the cause but shaken up. It is hard, hard to go on in the face of continuous suffering.
The case of my young American friend who worked with the refugees tells me that there are indeed bigger problems in the world, and those problems are much too big for us to comprehend and tackle alone. We still need our private time and our private lives. We still need our own to hold, to come back to. We need a break to recover, to heal.
A few months ago I learned that a dear friend of mine, also very young, had just recently discovered she had cancer. The prognosis is good but only time will tell as she will have to keep going back for routine exams. Her life will never be the same again, but hopefully she will live a long and fruitful life, and continue to touch the lives of countless others as she already does. I promised her that while I won’t be physically close to her because of our respective travels, I will be there for her. Every week, for as long as I can, I will ask her how she is doing, no matter where in the world the two of us may be. I intend to keep my promise.
Learning about the bravery with which my cancer-stricken friend is dealing with her life showed me that no matter how big my own problems, someone else’s problems are bigger. I had been going through some personal family crises, but when I heard about this friend’s ordeal of recovering from cancer, I realized that my problems were trivial even if they seemed huge to me.