Birthdays In Absentio
I’m somewhat used to Facebook catching me by surprise by now. A friend (or two or three) has a new girlfriend. And is now engaged. With children. Usually it happens to people that I’m tangentially friends with or to those with whom I’ve lost touch over the years. Occasionally I will feel particularly disquieted by it. I will feel guilty that I did not know, as if my ignorance were fundamentally due to a lack of genuine concern. In some senses this is true; we tune in to the lives of those we feel strongly about, and for everyone else the starkness of such disconnects is often the first tangible indicator of the magnitude of that distance between.
I thought about this as I stared at the Birthdays section of my Facebook newsfeed. It usually lists several people there, most of whom I haven’t seen in months or even years. But that day, there was only a single name.
Sonia K. Lee was a good friend, but we had grown apart by the time she got sick with leukemia and died. I still feel guilty about it… not about her death, but about all the things I left unsaid about our friendship. I don’t suppose she would have wanted that but it’s disquieting to shake off those sorts of feelings even now, these several years after her passing. I suspect that part of me will always feel guilty in the same way that a part of me will always feel the responsibility of friendship.
The hard truth of life is that we move forward and only those who run a parallel path will continue to remain in our view. I suppose it is equally natural that we, in the face of loss and displacement, continue to surround ourselves with activity and life. We crowd our vision with elements that speak of community to us, that defy and deny the thought that we are progressing further and further into the unknown territory of the future, a land in which we may one day wake up to find ourselves frightfully alone.
I looked at the papers scattered around my table. They were lab results, CT scans readings, and handwritten descriptions of a patient I had seen in the hospital and was writing up. I thought about the divinely orchestrated irony that he had the exact same illness that killed Sonia three and a half years ago, and had also been in good health before being struck down so suddenly. Such things used to fill me with fury, but repeated exposure has tamed the sentiment into a mild frustration. I wonder, with a mild sense of surprise, at my loss of innocence and sense of justice.
Perhaps I am being morbid in consistently dwelling on these topics, returning to them again and again. Perhaps some part of me does so out of fear; in this moment, I struggle to fend off the thought that as a brother, lover, father, I might one day also wake to find myself frightfully alone, a Facebook profile with a feed filled with ghosts. But I think more fundamentally, I simply don’t want to forget. I want these things to amplify the momentum of life instead of being brushed aside by it. I want the gravity of eternity to tug at my heart with all the irresistibility of the divine.
Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Dedicated to Sonia K. Lee, born January 27. You are not forgotten, and we are not alone.