Sunday, January 25, 2009

Moving on ...

In the last few years, misfortunes of various sorts have fallen on my friends, family, and colleagues. One of the more unpleasant aspects of growing older is that you see more and more of this with time. Friends, colleagues, and family members die, debilitating illnesses befall them, tragic things happen to them - sometimes by their own doing, and at other times seeming to strike out of the blue. These misfortunes seem to be completely uncorrelated to my opinions about who deserves what. I'm reminded of the line from the Clint Eastwood movie "Unforgiven" as William Munny (Eastwood) is about to take his revenge for the death of his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) on the Sheriff responsible, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) - Little Bill's final statement is "I don't deserve this" to which Munny responds "Deservin's got nothing to do with it!" as he pulls the trigger. Indeed, it seems good things and bad things happen to people all out of proportion to what we might think they deserve.

It's especially painful to witness bad things happen to the people we know when the misfortunes are so contrary to what we want for them. It can be so painful for us that we're struck dumb by the very evident inadequacy of words to express how we feel. How can mere words make that pain go away? The simple answer, of course, is that words are inadequate. Of course, the passing of a friend or family member isn't always as tragic as can be the process leading up to that loss - there clearly are times when death is a release and something of a blessing for the person dying and for the family and friends of that person. In other circumstances, death comes senselessly and suddenly, perhaps way too soon, and we feel the loss so deeply because of its finality - we've been robbed of someone we care about and delighted in being around. Debilitating illnesses or accidents can seem worse than death in some situations - the person we knew isn't there anymore even though their body may live on. It can be a particularly cruel fate for someone we care about.

If mere words are inadequate, why write these lines at all? If words serve any purpose at all, it's for letting others know as best we can that we all share these feelings. You're not alone in this agony, despite the fact that my words likely won't be able to do much about the situation. When bad things happen to good people in your life, the best thing you can possibly do is move on with your life. Don't be so selfish in your grief and sadness that you become wholly and permanently trapped in that ordeal. Ultimately, you have to put it behind you. Why? Because there are others who look to you for support and inspiration and love and who need those very things from you at least as much as you do. The passage through grief to acceptance is important, but ultimately, you give those whom you mourn the most important tribute by moving on and doing whatever it is that you need to do, as well as you can.

None of us are getting out of this alive, so what matters is what we do with the here and now.

There can be no logical understanding of why bad things happen to the ones we care about. Being alive always includes the heights of joy and depths of despair and everything in between. Why? I haven't any idea - it's nothing more than an empirical observation. Life is a great gift, that inevitably includes bad things as well as good. I believe we should try to drink deeply of it, including the sorrow as well as the joy. We're shaped by life into what we are and what we do. I believe we owe it to those remaining around us to move past the bad things that have happened to our friends and family - they're depending on us. Can we let them down?

I have no explanation for why, up to now, many of the awful things visited on my friends and family haven't happened to me. I don't understand why I've been so blessed - but I am thankful. Among the many blessings in my life have been some of those very people I've been describing who have experienced those terrible misfortunes. It pains me deeply for them to have to go through bad times. The best I can do often seems trivial, but I owe them that which I can do.

Remember that life provides you with opportunities to let people know how much you value their friendship or kinship. For your own sake, don't put off those opportunities too long. It's probably more for your own peace of mind (in retrospect) than it is for those to whom you express your love, respect, and friendship. But that expression also can make a big difference for the recipient, as well. Think of your own life, where something someone said to you made a big positive difference in your life. Don't let those words go unsaid because you feel you have all the time in the world. That time is guaranteed to no one.