–Eddy van Vliet
The city is covered with places you
took from me. Full of joint
footsteps, full of joint laughs.
They were sheltered by dreams and if need be
love grabbed the gun to protect them.
Tell my legs how to evade
what belonged to them.
Tell them. They refuse to believe
that the theatres have burned, restaurants
were hit by plagues, terraces vanished
into thin air, hotels closed,
the courtyard was demolished.
I bow my head and think
the rain will not hit me. Thus
I shall forget what was taken from me.
Today would have been my uncle’s birthday – my uncle who died last year in November. As with all losses and the mourning that follows, it has been rough, especially for my mom, his sister. I’ve written various bits about the loss and all the things you lose along with the person (the shared memory, or, as my mom put it the other day, “I was the person who had him in my life the longest of anyone alive” – in a sense this is true. As the older sister, she was there, 1.5 years old, when he came into the world, and with both of their parents gone, she is the only one who was there, and up close, for the rest of his life).
But in losing someone like him, we gain a deeper appreciation for who he was, and more than that, for what he taught without even trying. As I wrote at the time of his death: “the man collected everyone who came into his life, from “stray” people, to new friends, to ex-wives and ex-wives’ future families to new loves and their families and friends” – and this is always the thing about him that stuck with me during his life and now “post-life”. Perhaps because it is the thing I aspire to most. I find that somehow he was able to make it work, but I just encounter the most stubborn and traditional of barriers. I touched on the thought the other day: why are we so territorial and stingy with our love and acceptance?
Sure, I am a dyed-in-the-wool misanthrope, a come-to-life Oscar the Grouch (my hero, my idol), but it’s not actually who I am inside. Like my uncle, I am curious and my capacity for wanting to love people and show them compassion is boundless. When a former partner, who became a close friend, moved on and met the woman he has hitherto spent his life with, I was elated for him, but I lost the friendship because she was too jealous about its continuing to exist. When I got twisted into a mercifully brief emotional vise earlier this year, I swiftly got over the disappointment of it and thought we’d be friends – I tried to at least leave the door open to friendship on his terms but got burned by the partner/ex-partner/who knows now what she is/was because that became a question mark. Those details don’t really matter – I understand why these people got jealous, angry, irritated, upset. I just don’t think they had to – I have at least as much care and compassion for them as for the other party (the ones I actually knew directly). They have no way of knowing this and probably would not care because I guess there’s some intoxication or self-righteousness to be had in directing hatred or frustration toward perceived threats or annoyances. And all I can think is: I am sorry. I don’t think that holding onto hostility – or feeling hostile in any sustained way at all – is a way to live.
That is not to say I never get annoyed or hostile (often reactions to feeling hurt). But these things mend, and I look at situations and people (even virtual strangers) to see the good in all of them, to see what they must have gone through or experienced. If I could, I would be like my uncle and “collect” these people, too, into a distant but extended kind of network of people – like-minded or not, I am sure that if someone I cared about, even remotely or briefly, loved these people, they must be remarkable in some way. I’d venture to guess we all have a lot more in common than not.
Confronting mortality – both one’s own (and one’s own brushes with death) and others (so many losses, some obvious, some hidden) – it has always seemed ludicrous to be so insular and self-absorbed about love and particularly about welcoming and accepting people into your heart. My uncle, may he rest in cycling adventures and untold numbers of over-the-top characters and events on whatever plane he travels now – today, his birthday – and for all eternity, managed to live this challenge and invite others to live in this way too.
He taught by example, sure, but I really wish he were still here to ask him how he did it.