It’s not a pleasant thing to consider, but it is an important one, and Peggy Rosenthal is considering it: how do we cope when a friend dies?
Death is the great mystery. A cliché, that sentence. And yet…what a mystery that death is a mystery. It happens to everyone; so shouldn’t the human race by now have figured it out?
For me, one of the most helpful meditations on the mystery of mortality is Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being. Of course, this book is a meditation on much more as well…but transience is at its core. Dillard notes that when we’re confronted with huge statistics about death (like: over 230,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami), our minds can’t respond. We’re numbed. But when a single person whom we care about is dying or in danger, all our attention pinpoints on the preciousness of that person’s life. How can we save him? Dillard recounts how whole towns pour out to search for one missing child.
About an hour after hearing of Beth’s death (that hour sitting in something not quite like prayer, more like intense listening to the world shrink as Beth leaves it), I move to my shelves of poetry. Who here might give words to what I’m feeling?