What’s It All About?

Forgive the personal nature of this post. I’m not in a very “political” or “policy” mood right now.

A couple of days ago, a close friend died unexpectedly.

A couple of months before that, my best friend in the world–someone I talked to almost every day for fifty years, someone who shared my life so thoroughly that it’s hard to know who I would be if she hadn’t been part of it–died after a brief battle with cancer.

Even with months to prepare for the inevitable, I couldn’t write about that first death until now, couldn’t talk about it much, couldn’t come to terms with it. (I still haven’t.) The second one was a shock–a single male friend who we had semi-“adopted” into our family, who shared Thanksgivings and birthdays and weddings with our “clan,” and was only 62.

It’s times like these when you confront your own mortality, and wonder once again what it all means. Are there lessons in life’s fragility, and if so, what are they?

Like my best friend, who was a student of philosophy–and like my mother, who wasn’t–I don’t believe in an afterlife. We’re here, and then we’re gone, and to the extent our lives have meaning, it’s meaning we create. So we are responsible for thinking carefully about what it means to be a human being with free will (or something that feels like free will), and about the nature of morality, of good and evil, and our responsibilities to our fellow humans and the planet we share with them.

My friends each left a legacy of kindness. Neither was petty or self-aggrandizing. They both had a passion for justice, and an aversion to the sort of self-righteous judgmentalism that is all too common among less thoughtful and/or reflective people. They both lived full and authentic lives, and they both left their corners of the world better than they found it.

At the end of the day, I suppose that’s really all that anyone can hope for or aspire to.

The size of the holes left in our lives when wonderful, loyal people die is a testament to the value they added to ours. But those holes are really, really painful. We can walk around them, but they can’t be filled.