I think about this more often now that I’m older, this fleeting thing our lives are actually made of – time. The richest, most pampered person in the world, when it comes down to it, has only their time on this earth to spend.
Some believe in the infinitely tender idea of an afterlife, a magical place where we’ll be lovingly greeted by those we’ve loved and lost. It’s a nice idea, I can’t lie. Fewer and fewer people, I think, are betting on heaven right now, though it continues to comfort the dying and those loved ones left behind.
We are left with the world we live in, and the time we have left to live in it. All any of us really have, in the end, is time. Since in the West we are conditioned to believe that time is money, well, it seems a sin to waste it, even though the most important changes we can make in our lives often take a lot of time. For better or worse, I put no restrictions on my time or efforts these days, living frugally to avoid the thought of time actually being money.
Since I have too much time, some people would say, I talk to strangers this way (since most of my friends silently freak out when I address these musings to them) by arranging words into this parade of thoughts, feelings and ideas.
I don’t know how I would feel, getting something like this in the mail from someone I know. I might well feel: what the fuck?!! What is this shit? What does he want from me? Am I his fucking reader, his confessor, his validator? What does he expect me to say, that it’s good? It’s weird and unpleasant to have this odd, heavy burden suddenly thrust on me. Why doesn’t he just wage the long war to make a goddamned living at it and get praise from the people who really matter to a writer?
Strangers, I think, are the proper readers, to them I’m just a writer of some kind. Sitting among these readers I also imagine people like my mother, who took great pleasure in how my writing improved over the years.
I have time, and I take a few hours of it every day to reflect. You could call it my spiritual practice, if you like, this contemplative period of silence and tapping every day, during which my thoughts and feelings come into focus on the page in front of me.
After a joyous New Years Eve celebration with friends we returned to the quiet house Sekhnet inherited from her parents. It is a mile from the little house I grew up in. I often walk that mile, passing all the old places, most of which have been repurposed many times over.
I continue past my old block to the park, where I sit on a bench and scan the gigantic sky that is impossible to truly appreciate in most cities and suburbs. I feel the thousands of trees breathing. Then I choose another route and head back to Sekhnet’s.
The first day of the year reached midnight and, technically, it was the second. I checked my email and found a link Facebook had sent me to a friend’s post. I rarely visit Facebook, routinely delete the emails they send, but this friend often links to worthwhile reading material, so I clicked the link. Next to the new post was a short roster of people I might want to have as Facebook friends.
One of them was the widow of an old friend of mine, Melz. Melz died of a rare soft tissue sarcoma, the same thing that killed Hugo Chavez, apparently. He sent me a link to an article about what actually killed Chavez, a few weeks before his own long battle with this merciless disease reached its predictable end. He had defied the doctors one last time, they predicted he’d be dead by New Years, he lived until the second day of the year. I did not recall, as I looked over the public areas of his widow’s Facebook page, exactly when he had died.
On her Facebook page there was a picture of him leaping, hand in hand with her, also off the ground. The photo had been snapped at the height of their leap. Melz’s free arm is thrown up in the air, his mouth is open in a joyful shout, his legs are spread wide. He looks strong and full of life, as he no doubt was at that time.
It had been his wife’s profile picture, the two of them at the top of a leap. Later it had been replaced by another photo of the two of them, their faces filling the frame. They are young and both look great in the shot. Melz, who was built like Fred Flintstone, looks dashing, confident, at peace with himself. His head, I notice, is almost twice the size of his wife’s. I look at these pictures for a long time.
Later that morning an email arrived from an old friend, noting that January second is the fifth anniversary of Melz’s untimely death. This fellow had been Melz’s inseparable best friend for many years. Like me, a very close associate of Melz’s for a decade when we were young men, he had been gently ousted from his close friendship with Melz when Melz took a wife. The wife Melz took had her own ideas about his very close friendships, I suppose. Though we spoke on the phone several times in his last months, I saw him only a handful of times during the last thirty years of his life. His longtime best friend, the writer of the email, had seen him not that many times more than that, though they lived close by each other on the outskirts of Boston.
The writer of the email had conducted Melz’s funeral. He wrote and delivered a magnificent eulogy. The funeral was choreographed, per the wishes of the widow, a bit of the eulogy, then a designated guest would take the stage. When he went back to his seat, our old friend looked like the exhausted star of a basketball team in the fourth quarter of the seventh game of the playoff finals.
He was not sweating, but he looked wrung out, as we all were. When it was his time to take the ball, he did not hesitate or falter. He handled the ball calmly. Every shot fell straight through the net without touching the rim. He was in a flow state, unconscious, channeling the love so many people in that room felt for the departed.
One of the guests introduced himself as Melz’s best friend. His oldest friends had never met this guy, but nobody doubted him. Melz was gone and all we had now were the memories of his life, which were a kind of blessing to us.
The email evoked Melz by noting that he “moved from this world to the next on the wings of some magical keyboard five years ago today.” Melz was a talented piano player who I’d first seen playing a hundred variations on “Sunny” in a talent show in the rec hall at the camp we all went to. He was a fountain of improvisations, his Fred Flintstone-like fingers flickering flawlessly over the keys.
I was off my game the other day when I wrote back to the few old friends of Melz on the email list. I began the New Year feeling dull, disconnected, unequal to the tasks ahead. Fucking hell, you know, which is why so many people prefer going to work, and getting paid, to sitting at home, “working” for free. So I wrote a short email that missed the mark in several essential ways, sent it off, and instantly regretted the ungainly air ball I’d chucked up at the imagined buzzer. I will try it again now:
Eerily, almost Melzerianly, I found myself studying these photos of Melz in the wee hours of January 2. I rarely check FaceBook, but there I was, unaccountably, on Robin’s page.
Here is the old boy leaping with joy (note that I have cut off the person whose hand Melz is holding in a way that will be familiar to all old comrades of Comrade Melz). (photo)
And here he is looking handsomely himself in a great photo with his wife, now his widow. (photo)
Too soon, my friends, and though his memory is a blessing, in the way of such things, a greater blessing still would be coaxing the old showman to a piano and putting him through his paces.