Giving Thanks for Friendship: Love, Loss, and Dying in an Unfair Universe

Posted: November 27, 2013 in Experiences, Family, My moral code, On Compassion, Science and Religion
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I write this Thanksgiving after several very difficult years in the death department. I’ve been reflecting on the unfairness of the universe and the tragedy of early death. Those thoughts give me no comfort so I think it’s also necessary to reflect upon friendship and the gratitude I feel for those friendships. Specifically, I mourn the 2013 loss of my father-in-law, Harrel Crabb; the greatest percussion teacher in the known universe, John Bergamo; my amazing friend and social justice mentor, Emily Gottfried; a man who seems to have been the guy who turned me on to almost everything that has profoundly influenced me, Dick Williams; and a friend who I wish I’d spent more time with over the last quarter century or so, John McClintic. This post is dedicated to these wonderful friends and others whose love and support I have cherished, including:

  • John Bergamo
  • Thelma Crabb
  • Harrel Crabb
  • Bob Crabb
  • Nick England
  • Pablo Esteve
  • Emily Gottfried
  • Andy Hamon
  • Karen Holmes
  • Art Jarvanin
  • John McClintic
  • Bruce McPherran
  • Rusty Mills
  • Lucky Mosko
  • Pandit Taranath Rao
  • Austin Sergeev
  • Dorothy Stone
  • John Waddell
  • Dick Williams
On Loss

When a 42-year-old man has a massive heart attack and leaves behind a beautiful family, a person who does more for her society than most of her friends combined dies in a hospital room, or a guy everyone loves shoots himself (sadly, the above list includes more than one of those), it is not only possible but inevitable to feel a deep sense of loss. I feel that loss every day and it sucks. But, that sense of loss just proves we have empathy and it reminds us of fragility. When I feel loss I recognize this fragility and I’m grateful to be reminded of just how precious it is.

On Memory

The fact that life is fragile makes it all the more important to keep memory alive. You’d think that after over 30 years people would be tired of hearing my stories of drinking beer in Nick England’s office with Morton Feldman and Mel Powell. Maybe they do, but I loved Mel and Morty so, too bad, I’ll keep those memories alive even if you are tired of hearing them. As will I keep alive the memories of Emily Gottfried and the “Save Darfur” rally, Taranath Rao and the Chevas Regal Tabla lessons, Lucky Mosko and the day he told me my flute piece showed the maturity of my music, Dick Williams and his daily happy hour, Pablo Esteve and our annual purchases of Anchor Steam Christmas Beer, and the golf clubs that John McClintic sold me without the 8 iron (because he’d slammed it against a tree) but with the shaft if I wanted it. We owe it to our friends to keep their memory alive. That’s why we Jews always say “May their memory be a blessing“. Remember.

God?

Is it God’s will that at least 3 or 4 of my old friends have shot themselves? Is it God’s will that Pablo had a heart attack? Is it God’s will that Karen Holmes died in a horrific bicycle accident at Cycle Oregon while her husband looked on? I will not argue with anyone’s belief system. If yours differs from mine, frankly, I hope you are right. As for me, all I can say for myself is “bullshit”.  My God neither condones, nor brings about, nor embraces sorrow. Just my opinion.

Does the Universe Give a Shit?

So the real question to me is this: “Why do horrible people often live to ripe old ages while some of the greatest contributors die far too young and violently?”. This may not give as much comfort to people as to say things are “God’s will” and that we don’t understand “the divine plan”,  but when it comes to deaths like these, I don’t think it’s because of a divine plan, I don’t even believe it’s “karma”. I think that we live in a chaotic universe of ever-increasing entropy. Irrespective of religious beliefs, I basically think the universe doesn’t really give a shit. Horrible things happen but they are not necessarily any more explainable than to say that they are random events in a massively entropic universe. That’s it.

On Being Thankful for Friends

When you realize that life is precious and fragile, that “God” is not the cause of bad things, that the universe has no top-secret plan, and that memory is the most important thing after a life has ended, where does that leave you?

In my mind it leaves you with the ability to have any religious belief you want and any eschatological viewpoint that comforts you in thinking about death. But if you put those differing viewpoints aside, it also leaves you with some very clear common ground.

  1. Be thankful for your friends – respect then, cherish them, cultivate them.
  2. Remember that it is impossible to say “I love you” too much – Fragility and entropy combine in such a way that you never know what will happen or what irrevocable decision you might make. It sounds “campy” but I try my best to make saying “I love you” to my wife the last thing I do before walking out the door; any door . Say it to your family and say it to your friends because any nanosecond could be your last opportunity.
  3. Remember the good times and the bad times. Just remember. Don’t let the mirror of memory become clouded. You owe it to yourself and your friends to remember.
  4. Don’t take anyone for granted. You can’t set the clock back. “I was just thinking about him/her!” is not what you want to say when you find you’ve missed your chance.

I fully realize that this is not my record-setting “most upbeat” post. But it’s important to me to remind my friends, and family, and followers, that you don’t get second chances with life. So when you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, remember the great blessing you have in friendship. From my perspective, the thing I’m most thankful for is that true friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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