There are no words, I think, over and over.
Each time, a voice that isn’t entirely my own answers: Find some.
No one will even read it if I don’t post it to his page, I whinge to myself. I won’t trade his life for blog hits.
The voice is losing its patience with me. So that’s why you write? For click validation?
My friend died last night. His name was Ken and he was the best person I ever knew.
(Today, by the way, has made me realize just how painful the past tense can be.)
I’m more upset than I probably have a right to be. I haven’t seen Ken in years. I can’t imagine the grief that his beautiful wife, Bonnie, or his children, or his close friends, are feeling. It feels gauche to claim any of it for myself.
But I’m pissed. I’m pissed that a good person has left a world in very short supply of that diminishing commodity. I’m pissed that that person won’t write any more words, something he did better and with less effort than anyone I can think of.
I’m pissed that cancer gets another notch in its black-hearted belt. I’m pissed that Delta and rain and circumstances kept me from trying to see him one last time.
I’m pissed that he died two days before his birthday. I’m pissed that he died after finally finding the love of his life.
I’m fucking pissed, period.
I sent Ken a novel I attempted to write a few years ago – an act of such hubris (even though he graciously volunteered to look at it) that it makes me cringe. Had I made it to his hospice room, I was going to open with: “You know, if you didn’t want to finish my book, you could have just said so.”
I couldn’t make that trip for reasons that are valid and I don’t regret. Mostly. One dark, shameful reason is probably fear. Not of seeing my friend close to death, the up-close embodiment of the pictures that shocked me at first, once social media caught me up on his recent life. No, the fear, like so much of me, that is selfish.
A colleague had urged me to go see him because he’d be glad to see an old friend, which I have no doubt would have been the case. You can catch him up on your life, she went on, and that’s where my narcissistic heart skipped a beat.
I could have told him about my family, my husband and my stepdaughter, whom I do not deserve and of whom I am so proud. That would have been fine – wonderful, even. But then I would have had to tell him I don’t write anymore, not really. And the failure that fact has imprinted on my brain would have been plainly written on my face.
There’s a story in the Bible about talents – money, in this case. About how a master going on a trip leaves some with three servants. The servants who are left two and five talents, respectively, each double their value - sort of New Testament stockbrokers - and receive much praise. The small, fear-driven servant who receives just one buries his talent in the ground, afraid to risk losing it. His master is not pleased.
Even when I wrote words for a living, I often felt they weren’t the right words, the worthy ones. I pictured the Master scoffing at my use of my talents. What must He think now?
There is a possibility, slim as it may be, that He would be pleased, with the life I have built, with the people who populate it. There is a possibility, slim though it may be, that my failure is self-diagnosed and self-perpetuated.
I can’t write about Ken as eloquently as many of his former colleagues have done today. I can’t share any recent, poignant memories or any wise last words.
What I can do is try to be a better person. To others, and to myself.
Ken was kind. I am not, inherently. I am petty. I am snide. I hold grudges and cling to slights like a drowning woman to a leaking raft. I can remember, in movie-dialogue detail, every hurtful thing my husband has ever said to me - while staring at the daily reminders of how much he loves me. As eloquent as I can wax about Jesus, I don’t forgive easily. I turn my back on opportunities to serve.
In the overwhelming wake of this sadness, I can be kinder, like Ken. Not by dredging up a superficial smile, but by caring when I ask how someone is doing – even when I don’t. By listening more and talking less. By considering others first and second. By calling my mother more. By listening to my child play guitar more often, without being asked. By occasionally passing up the snappy one-liner. By looking at the trees, and not through my smart phone screen.
By being grateful for what is, and not mourning what was.
I can also pull out that novel again and get to work on the parts I know need attention. I can dive back into the world of synopses and query letters and not be offended that the first 30 agents/publishers didn’t recognize my genius.
I can dig up my talent.
I didn’t get to see Ken. But I can operate from here on out on the premise that he can see me.