This is a dark post, so reader beware.
This last week I lost yet another person I know.
I would love to say that they were close to me, but maybe not when I really think about it. I would like to say that she was someone that I knew very well. Several years ago was when I last got together with her and her husband. In that gap of time, we fell a little out of contact and lost touch. Though still kept them in mind and sent holiday greetings.
What I can go by is what I remember of her. She was a fun, vibrant personality that was quick with a quip at you. She was one of those people that harmlessly flirt with you and always seemed to keep her husband in check. Gently ribbing him if he got too full of himself or cocky. When we went to their house for dinner, she and my wife would pair off and have ‘girl talk’. Meanwhile, her husband and I would sit with a scotch or wine and talk.
Death has been all around us lately. Covid has taken its toll on many of us in our losses and in our emotions. Personally, I have lost eight people in the last year and a half, seven of those to Covid. I am not alone, by any stretch of the imagination. It seems almost everyone I talk to has had some connection with a person who lost someone or has lost someone themselves.
I am tired of watching people die so soon in life, and watching the results of this illness. But as I am learning, when you get old, the casualty count goes up. Somewhere in that throng of people, your name is duly inscribed. One day, my time will come and with each passing day, it gets closer.
Death is a Battlefield
I have always likened death’s approach to entering a battlefield.
We hit the ground running in our youth. Sure, you see the occasional puff of smoke from the guns in the distance, but rarely do their shells reach so far as to hit you. You see them fall short or land some distance harmlessly away. As you age, you move forward, closer to the guns, and you start to notice that the shells are landing nearer, but still too far away to be much of a concern.
As you age, you get your first wake-up call when you see a shell take out someone you know, sometimes this is someone close, a family member, a friend, a loved one, but the pain wakes you up to the fact that life is temporary, transitional. But it is still so few and far between that you mourn, grieve for the loss and then move on, certain that you are safe… for now.
Then something happens. Unexpectedly, you see the shells are no longer landing in the distance. They are landing nearer and occasionally feel the dust and concussion from them. You find that whoever is firing those shots is zeroing in on you.
One day you lose a close friend. Someone that you talked to on a regular basis, someone you saw or interacted with regularly. You see them disappear before your eyes. The empty space where they once were becomes a vacuum in your life. Someone you will never talk to again, someone you will never share things with again. You see all the things that you never said, or told them and will never have the chance now. Now, with this loss, so close to you, the reality and finality what those incoming shells can do becomes apparent and you realize that one of them, no matter what you do, who you know, how rich you are, how well or little liked you are… one of them has your name on it, and it is just a matter of time.
Moving with more purpose now, you look at those around you and wonder, “Will it be them or me next?” You find yourself evaluating the things you do, the people you know, the loves you have shared and the ones you wished you could have had. You ask yourself, “Have I done enough? Will people remember me? Did I make a difference? Touch someone’s heart? Love enough? Did people love or like me?”
Some people never have to ask these questions, they know through the results of their efforts what the answers might be, but for many, the answers will never come, at least not while we live and move up the line. See, the other part of this story is that you HAVE to move forward. You have no choice. Time and the universe control your advance, like some invisible hand on your back, pushing… pushing you closer to the gunfire.
Then you lose a parent, a spouse, a brother, a sister, a close friend… you know it’s getting closer. In the military, they say that you never see or hear the one that gets you. Then there will come that fateful day when, as you look forward, the shell lands on you. Those around you see it happen, but like you, they were powerless to help or do anything about it, except remember who you were, your accomplishments, your family. That is if you are lucky. In many cases, as I suspect will be the case with me, they simply disappear into the darkness.
Sure… some will remember you, but many many more will not. You and your memory will lose potency and, eventually, will be lost to time and to the war that is life.
Hemingway once wrote, “Every man has two deaths when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name. In some ways, men can be immortal.” So in some cases, a person can live beyond their years in the memories of others. In other cases, a person will last only as long as someone remembers to say their name and remember them from time to time. When that last person who remembers them passes on, then they will truly be lost to time.
As always, I thank whomever is out there that takes time to read these posts. I am not the most regular about writing, so I know there must be people out there that have stopped merely because I have not written in some time.