Every streetlight a reminder

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder
Yeah, yeah we were altogether
Lost in our little lives

A person I know peripherally died quite recently, unexpectedly and young. I was not close to him, only met him a few times. Many people I love dearly are rent by grief. I am familiar with the pain of losing someone so loved, so young, so unexpected. The splitting open of daily life to spill the naked innards of love, the fracture in time and space that relocates us to an island of grief, lush with feeling and memory. Who knows how long we’ll stay in this place. This is where we live now.

In watching my friends grieve, these things make themselves clear: he was loved in vital and present ways, and was still alone in his darkness. We can’t anticipate when the connection will drop, and it is not always apparent to others when it does. The best we can do is connect and fortify, connect and fortify, over and over again. Still, that isn’t foolproof. I’m gleaning that he tenaciously loved winter, REM, the moon, and his friends and family. If those things are also said about me after I am gone, I will have been seen. That is our commonality, me and him, in addition to a darkness that’s long been lingering around corners.

In his honor, quite a bit of REM has been shared. I don’t much like the idea of holding up artistic favorites, but REM was, for many years, my Favorite Band of Record. At summer camp when my cabin mates were writing the names of the New Kids On the Block on their bunks, I wrote in black sharpie:

Chronic Town
Fables of the Reconstruction
Life’s Rich Pageant

Green hadn’t come out yet and the band still felt like my own special secret. Their mystical combination of intellect, vulnerability, and playfulness gave me a pulse, a pump of life. It’s hard to explain, or even to remember, that time before digital access when commercial radio was the normative culture and anything outside that felt like a breaching leap — dangerous and exhilarating. There was mystery in REM, they operated in a space unrelated to conventions of songwriting and time and language and gender and sexuality. The lyrics were inscrutable, the record art cryptic. They cast long shadows, so when the light flooded in I could be carried away. 

This friend of my friends loved the moon. The moon doesn’t generate its own glow, but reflects the sun. Its darkness is the precise state that allows it to hold and offer back the light. One of my friends died so loved, so young, so unexpectedly, and we sang “Moon River” at his funeral, at his uncle’s suggestion. Both men had loved the song, but my friend’s attachment to it was more than a small bit enhanced by its connection to the movie Fletch, in which Chevy Chase’s Irwin M. Fletcher lets out “Moooooooooon river!” in a howl during an unexpected rectal exam. I have no idea whether his uncle knew this association, but their shared love of the song was a conduit of love for him. My friend was complicated, always picking up and dropping connection. It is good to love complicated people. Advisable, even, since none of us are uncomplicated. Connection is the light.

The sudden absence of someone we love, however fraught that love may be, inspires the outpouring of testimonies of voracity of spirit, proof of life. I’m sincerely curious why we don’t say these things to one another while we are here. There’s a fear there I can’t quite pinpoint. We make thousands of choices every day between jesuslizarding over the surface and holding our breath and diving, seeing each other in the murk below, covered in silt. We share the same air. Walking around in grief, the fresh meat of mortality, seeing all of us as goners, makes me love you even more.