February 15th, 2023
I often have to repeat to myself that the world isn’t more tragic; we are just made more aware of all the tragedies.
And tragedy becomes a kind of string we wear around our finger.
I have extended family who are going through a personal tragedy right now, losing their father, my uncle, my mom’s brother, a good man, and my heart is terribly broken for them; last year, family on the other side dealt with something as tragic and unexpected; the year before that, that particular tragedy belonged to us.
You play with that string on your finger and wonder what it is you’re supposed to remember.
Every day on the internet, the tragedy picks somebody else. Another family member, friend, co-worker, acquaintance, somebody from high school, a famous person you’ve never met. We didn’t hear about every loss before. They all still happened.
Last October, on the day before Halloween, I was walking down our private steps to the garage on my way to work. The door to my downstairs neighbor’s apartment was open. There was a man inside the dark living room, but I averted my eyes, because it’s weird to look inside somebody’s home.
When I got to work, I had a Facebook message: it was from Mike. Mike was a bar regular of mine for years from Old Chicago; it turns out he was the man in the dark. He was my new neighbor.
I always liked Mike. Funny, smart, down-to-earth. He was always open with me about his demons; he talked to me about them, he had faced them and I found his honesty inspiring.
He sent me messages about our inept landlord and our incessant fire alarm. In November, Mike asked me how he could get my books. I told him I could just bring some copies downstairs, where he lived, just a dozen steps from where I am sitting.
In January, on the day my car was stolen, another friend sent me a text.
Mike was dead.
I am in as much shock today as I was when I found out. I don’t really know how to deal with it, and all the feelings I’m reminded of; my finger with the string wrapped around it is unbearably itchy.
There are so many rumors as to how he passed, and they are all firmly tied to demons. Understanding that nobody can be saved doesn’t save a person from immense guilt when they fail to even recognize somebody needed help.
The world isn’t more tragic. It doesn’t make the tragedy hurt less.
And the tragedy isn’t just a string; it’s a quilt. Every unique thread and event stitched together, to remind me of what it felt like to be there; to remind me of the lessons I had to learn.
The lessons from loss. The lessons from hopelessness. The lessons of being alive long enough to experience life’s consequences.
The big lesson is to love, whatever that means to you. Whether it means to hold close, to forgive, to hang in, to let go, to move on; to remember, to share, to keep; to talk, to listen; the version of love that feels true to you.
And all of mine goes out to you today, if you’re wrapping that string around that finger for the first or fiftieth time.
It’s something we go through together — even as we go through it alone.