As Joshua’s words come echoing across the water and down the years to me, I can’t help thinking that his life was not just his finest thoughts about poetry and friendship, expressed in a style that rejected forcefulness in favor of sympathy, but it was also comprised of his long mornings in his dressing gown with his telephone, newspapers, the Hu Kwa smoked tea and the little sterling-silver strainer that sat in its drip cup when it wasn’t straddled across a cup catching leaves. His life was made up of his pleasure in the morning glories as well as his hilarity ….After [his death] I looked through all the letters I’d ever received from Joshua and I realized I’d been unworthy of him then, that he’d been sending them through time to me as I would become years later. –Edmund White, The Farewell Symphony
Maybe it’s this unyielding time of year, but lately there’s just been so much death all around me. Rather than feeling shocked by these losses, I have begun to accept them as commonplace, albeit painfully so. Herein lies what Jane Smiley once termed the Age of Grief. That point in our lives when those who served as our grownups begin to sicken and fade, leaving us to step into their shoes. When we lose the only ones who remember us as little and effortlessly dear, the only ones who forgive us our sins as youthful folly–who regard us with the hope and fear and involuntary affection with which every generation regards the next. I suspect most of what these people taught me I only roughly comprehend now. And I hope fervently that someday I, like White, will become the person whom their best selves were already addressing.
4/28/16 Note: I wrote the above post in 2008, when almost all the people I’d lost had been members of the preceding generation. In the eight years since, I have lost so many peers: dear friends and lovers, estimable colleagues, cultural heroes, even frenemies whom I didn’t know I cherished until they were gone. The sting is just as strong, and very different. Closer to home, closer to the fabric of daily life–closer, period. The horizontal (not vertical) allies, rebels who shared your causes, the luxury of taking each other for granted, the casual companionship and shared shorthand, the shared delusion of immortality, the shared firsts, the bodies, the bodies you shared: These losses are so core. I am saddened to recognize that this White passage resonates on new levels but even more awed by what he captured.