Monday, May 28, 2012

A broken promise

Over the past few weeks, a number of people who were connected to my life in one way or another have died. At this point, coming from such a large family, death is not the shocker that it used to be. The time when a phone call early in the morning that you great aunt sally who you may have met one Christmas party in 1993 has passed away has long since lost its affect. As one of the youngest members of such a large extended family, it appears to be my job to bear witness to the passing of time, to the passing of life.

And, I do this dutifully, suits and funerals, comments of "she looks so peaceful," and "she's in a better place now." These are motions gone through, one by one as the old get trimmed away like so many unruly hedges, and leave space for the next generation to step up and take its swing at this chance we call life.

I've grown numb to any pain once felt for those whose golden years slowly fade to black. It's not like death is some big fucking surprise...every single one of us will die, and we all know that we can't stay on this roller coaster forever...and who would want to?

But the deaths surrounding me lately have not been the quiet, peaceful sunset where growing old gives way to growing old no more. The deaths surrounding me lately have been 'tragic' deaths of my peers.

We use that word, tragic. In this context, I think it means wasn't supposed to happen. These two tragic deaths, not connected in any way, were tragic in that they weren't supposed to happen. They certainly weren't supposed to happen to my peers, to my friends.

And, it seems, like all deaths labeled tragic, these two deaths were the direct cause of stupidity. I shall not speak ill of the dead, and the poor choices that led to their demise, for I have made these same poor choices, and I have made them time and time again. It's that random crap-shoot we call life that leads to me writing these words here as the bodies of my friends are in the ground.

See, death never really struck home for me, so long as it was confined to ole Great Aunt Sally. But seeing your friends die, well that will awaken circuit long since hazed over and dusty from lack of use. And that circuit leads me down a road I haven't walked since my youth...and that road leads to anger.

When I was younger, I had a dog Named Charlie. Like all dogs that you had when you were five years old, Charlie was my best friend. Catch, and chase, and petting, and all of the things that a boy and his dog will do. Over the years, Charlie began to lose the skip in his step, and maybe he couldn't catch quite as well as he used to be able to once his eyes turned a strange milky white. Charlie eventually gave up on that whole moving, and eating, thing altogether.

So, when I was seven, I was told so say goodbye to Charlie, and then sent to a neighbor's house as Charlie took his last car ride.

After the deed was done, I was comforted by friends and family who told me that one day, far in the future, Charlie and I would be playing catch on streets paved with gold, blessed by God, and in a heaven where there is no pain, no suffering, and eternal peace.

As a seven year old, this concept comforted me. The though that Charlie and I would be together again was what got me through this, this greatest loss I had experienced in my young life.

I believed this lie for the longest time, and not just for Charlie. I believed I'd be back fishing with Grandpa someday, and helping Grandma to make perogies in God's kitchen.

And then I grew up, and slowly became aware that these comforting tales served their exact, intended purpose. They helped me to get over loss by offering hope. Hope that the loss I have experienced is only temporary, and all will be made right in the end.

It's a funny thing, though. Convince someone that all will be right in the end, and they will spend their time waiting for that day when all will be fixed. Sure, there are rules to follow, and those are obeyed with all due diligence, but as long as we obey, then it's simply a matter of watching the clock.

These days, I'm watching the clock for a different reason. I am watching the clock because I have left these fairy tales behind. I shall not see my friends again, and I'll never play catch with Charlie. I watch the clock because it's clear from the evidence in front of me that I have from sun up to sun down to try and make a difference. I have but one life, and I've wasted enough of it preparing for the afterlife, instead of making the world that is in front of me better then it was when I got here.

I'm watching the clock for one reason: to see how much of this world I can fix my time runs out, and my flame fades away.

I may have hours, days, years, or decades. I hope I die at 98 in a bed with friends by my side, but we don't get to choose how we go. We only get to choose what we do between now and then.

And my choice is to work as hard as I can on doing the things I love, and using the tools I have to try and make the world the tiniest bit of a better place. It seems to me a better plan than taking a knee, and letting the clock run out. Broken promises aside, in this time I have there is only one thing to do, and that is to try.

All I can do is try.

-Paul Wittmeyer

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