strangers – mercy – sympathy – grief – ghosts – ships passing in the night

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Reflecting on strangers – how people who were intimates once, about whom one may have harbored illusions of closeness, are truly strangers. Or they go from being strangers, to being (false) confidants and lovers, back to being strangers again. It does not take much effort or time to get there. From where do real connections spring and grow? In my own case, I fully recognize my responsibility in the unraveling of non-strangers, playing a role in the alchemy that turns them back into strangers. I am much more difficult to deal with than I think I am (since I spend the vast majority of my time alone, I cannot gauge how intolerant and impatient I am with others until I am with them). And it can be petty. But it takes two, and selfishness and lack of self-awareness both are toxins that are unlikely ever to be expelled.

Reflecting on strangers – thinking of how some renewed strangerships are best that way, added to a long list of confirmed first impressions that were ignored and more ammunition for the cynicism rifle. But sometimes, complete strangers restore faith completely. Yesterday on a city tram, drifting away to my own little world, lost in whatever music was playing at the time, I heard loud noises (I was not sure at the time if it was yelling/a confrontation or something else). Eventually I realized that a woman was having a very violent attack of some sort (perhaps a diabetic episode) and was vomiting and retching at the back of the tram car. Two other women immediately jumped to her aid, one acting like a nurse, physically helping the sick woman while the other was trying to find out exactly what was wrong and then took charge, instructing other people in the tram what they could do to help (call an ambulance to meet the tram at the next station, trying to get people to give her whatever sugar they had on hand). The fact that a group of strangers came together quickly and helped this woman gave me a bit of hope. Not all people live in a bubble of self-absorption. At least people exert mercy and sympathy.

Reflecting on strangers – a long time ago in Iceland, I desperately wanted to find a job. I did not have much luck on my own, but I was freelancing. Rather randomly, in the course of my freelance work, which involved some fact-checking, I came across the blog of another local who ended up in Iceland in a similar way to how I did. I emailed him, and we became friends. But before we were really well-acquainted at all, he helped me find a job, and that has been something that stuck in my mind pretty much forever after. It might not have been a big deal to him, but it was an act of kindness from a near-stranger that not only rescued me from the endless job hunt (and served as a key stepping stone in my professional life thereafter, enabling a lot of learning and great experiences) but led to things like meeting one of my other best friends and even to enjoying the best cup of coffee I ever had in Iceland (might seem inconsequential but is highly memorable to me).

While he and I have remained friends, after a time, we were no longer colleagues, and I eventually moved abroad. He got married and eventually also left Iceland. But with some people, you remain friends, however disconnected you become.

Then, earlier this summer, following what has been a rather tragic year of early loss (in so many senses of the term "early loss"), this friend experienced a tremendous loss. His young, beautiful wife died in an accident. I cannot really begin to discuss this with any clarity. I think of his wife, with whom I was acquainted, and how they had just posted on Facebook some beautiful, happy pictures of themselves together from just the day before the accident. How sudden and shocking loss can be. If I felt so much shock and grief, I cannot imagine what my friend felt. When I heard about his wife's death I just felt a numb shock as though it could not be real. It was not until a couple of days later, when I was sitting at a cafe in Oslo waiting for someone, when I got a message from this friend, that his seeming composure and approach (i.e. "moving forward" and doing what must be done – because what other choice is there? Maybe one imagines s/he will fall apart and fail to function or completely lose it, but at that point, at least in the limited view I had, he didn't. But that is the thing about grief – it is an unpredictable monster and manifests itself for years to come in unexpected ways) undid me. My shock had worn off with the sober reality that he, despite being "surrounded by" (in reality and virtually) love from friends and family all over the world, was alone. He had chosen someone to spend his life with, and she was gone. That stark reality, and thinking of how well they seemed to complement each other as individuals, suddenly made me burst into tears right in the middle of that Oslo street. It could not be helped. While my outburst may have been informed and influenced by some of my own nonsense, the dual slap across the face of "suddenness" and "finality" hit.

I do not know that there is any appropriate consolation you can offer someone in such circumstances except to give your sympathy, offer your time, your love and a sincere open-door, open-arms policy.

And then of course return to the reality of your own life and try to glean some sort of "lesson" from early loss and death.

RIP HBÞ and with all my love to JEB

4 thoughts on “strangers – mercy – sympathy – grief – ghosts – ships passing in the night

  1. claudette.bb

    You have no idea how much this post hits home with me Especially the cup of coffee,as that is a daily memory for me, as I miss the city insanely, long talks with friends over unending free refills of perfect coffee in fabulous coffee shops. No one in small towns hangs out like that, they would rather spend 20 minutes in line at the drive thru of a fast food place to get a cup of cheap nasty coffee, because they are lazy and unsocial. Most importantly, Identifying with death and loss as I have when my daughter died a few years ago. The panic and fear of the inevitable is one hell of a reality check. One's own mortality. The pain of loss,sends you through emotions that aren't even in the books. The hardest to overcome is the anger.

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