Saturday, November 26, 2011

Perhaps a Dirge

I wanted to write about the death of a dear old friend, an artist; about who he was and why his loss greys the world of those who knew him.  But I couldn't; I can't.  The invisible child kept coming into my mind, insisting on mediating between loss and faith, or maybe just loss and hope.  Maybe a tribute to Bob Perrault will come later: lord knows he deserves it.  But for now, this is what wanted to be written.

In the land where the invisible child comes from, there is no word for ''forever,'' because there is nothing  to contrast it to.  There is only the word ''is.''  Time exists, but cyclically, one tool in the infinity of existence.  There is life but no death, just different locales and different experiences of life, so that what we perceive as death--finality-- is to them simply one of those differing experiences.  Because of this, the line between what we might call this life and the afterlife is a wobbly one, and quite permeable.  Interactions between the ''living'' and the ''dead'' are frequent and unremarkable.

This is what the invisible child tells the woman. The woman is grieving.  She believes in an afterlife, but one so cut off from this life that she cannot feel her belief, cannot cross the gulf between herself and her beloved dead.  She quotes a favorite prayer: ''lord, i believe; help my unbelief.'' The invisible child cannot comprehend ''unbelief.'' nor can the woman explain it.  What the invisible child does understand is the woman is hurting because her friend is dead. So the child says, tell me about him, your friend.

She tries.  She wants the invisible child to understand, and then perhaps she herself can understand. He was kind, she says. So very kind. And then can't explain. The kindnesses were small: he told people that they looked nice, and he could point to what they wore or how they smiled that day;  he radiated warmth, and melded it seamlessly with gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, irony. And then there were the years of shared silly jokes, and when you hadn't seen each other in a year, the kindness and the jokes were waiting for you, so you felt you'd seen each other all the time, that all the changes of the years were nothing, a little more gray hair, a different job, a new enthusiasm, nothing discomfiting.  She tries to explain the jokes; the slightly lifted eyebrow, the tone of voice, the arch observations.  He was kind, he was funny, you could tell each other old stories from years ago and they were as warm or funny or sad as if this were the first time they had been said, only with the comfort of familiarity. She tries to explain the difference between absence when all it means is you live in different places, and absence when the person has died.  The child nods. She hears what the woman is saying, and not saying.  When she leaves, she turns back long enough to say, When I see your friend, I'll tell him you miss him.

 And briefly, the woman believes.


1 comment:

Jim said...

We've both posted dirges in the past week. Must be the season.

I am sorry about your loss.