“If parting of friends, absence alone can work such violent effects, what shall death do, when they must eternally be separated, never in this world to meet again?” Robert Burton in Anatomy of Melancholy
Saying goodbye is a challenge, even when it is saying goodbye to the person I live with before going to school, knowing I will return to her in the evening. Even when it is saying goodbye to an acquaintance that I know circumstance will connect me with again soon. It was difficult to say to my parents before leaving for college, then London, then some other city. It was unbearable to say to my housemates and friends before leaving Worcester. Every new goodbye shakes me up more than the one that preceded it.
The only consolation in a goodbye is in the possibility of seeing the person you part with again, so that goodbye does not mean final and total loss. Even if I never pick up the phone to call the friend I have not seen in months, there is a trust in the continuation of their life, in a space other than mine, confirmed by the continuation of time. The continuation of time strings me together with all the people I know and think of, people I rarely see but still call friends, based on the trust of continuity, of our passive participation in so-called time, and hence the possibility of reconnection.
Then, one night, I find out that trust in the continuation of another’s life apart from mine is a blind trust. Time falters, zigzags, reveals layers I didn’t know it had. It shows me that my trust in continuity is as arbitrary as any “reasonable” assumption that we must make in order to carry on. Things like “there is a ground beneath my feet,” automatically confirmed with every step we take. It is a trust so basic and fundamental that we don’t think about it until it is challenged—until we take an empty step into a pothole and think “there was no ground beneath my foot!”
My dear and talented friend from college, Chris Weigl, was killed in an accident while biking to class two days ago. How do I react to this piece of news? I have not seen Chris in about a year; before receiving the news my mind accepted that I had not seen Chris in about a year, might not see him in a few years, but could see him if I chose to see him, when I chose to see him. That is the trust in the continuity, snipped off. And I find my reaction insurmountably difficult to verbalize. Because it means what goodbye means without the consolation. It is the loss of the possibility that I can call Chris and see him if I choose. It is goodbye without cushions; it is goodbye, cold and heavy.
Of course, I only speak here of Chris’s loss in relation to me. I can only imagine how devastating it is for people whose possibility of seeing Chris was an even more fundamental belief–people who were proximally close to him. I can imagine the restructuring that must take place in their realities in order to accommodate the fact of his loss. I am on the verge of tears, I suddenly want to embrace everybody I know—not this person or other, but the totality of lives that keep me connected to life itself. I want to clutch life tightly, find some palpable thing that symbolizes life and hold on to it, if only to fool myself into thinking that it can be done.