When did I become such a sponge for mourning?
I remember being so callous as a teen. It was almost a point of pride, how I could wade through the fetid mire of the world so disaffected. Hope turned to shit everywhere I looked, but by simply keeping my nose up I could ignore the smell. So fucking arrogant. I recall a moment once where my mum was inquiring about how my girlfriend was doing. “Oh, we broke up a few weeks ago” I remarked casually. Mum was shocked, this wasn’t just a passing fling, this was a met the family, vacationed together, my mother has counted her grandchildren before they hatched (human women make eggs, right? The logic checks out) kind of thing. “It’s not a big thing” I continued “we just saw it going in different directions.” Cool, collected, smooth. She looked at me with concerned eyes and asked “what happened to you? When did you get so callous?” Of course I wasn’t fine. That break up made my core tremble intermittently for months afterwards. That word though, the notion that I was too armoured to let something pierce my hide? It held promise and I clung to it. I adopted this façade of emotional fortitude and pushed caring to the side. If others never saw me hurt then I wasn’t. That’s how life works, n’est–ce pas?
Life changes, things change, people change. In ageing, your experiences can’t help but warp you into someone different. If you’re not evolving then are you really growing? I met people, I grew closer to people, people left. Each of them left their mark, whether visible or not. I knew what it was to have love in my life and the weight of loss became all too apparent. As the years have expanded, so too have my connections. As they’ve expanded, the important connections have deepened. As those connections have deepened, I’ve opened myself up to the pain that comes with love. To truly let people in, you have to be open to the reality that they won’t stay forever. They can’t. We don’t live long enough. As I’ve left the fortress of solitude callousness provides, my sensitivity to connection has compensated in an almost overwhelming fashion.
I was reading Patton Oswalt’s tribute to his departed wife Michelle McNamara and it levelled me. As did Stephanie Wittels tribute to her departed brother Harris. The latter piece is one I find myself returning to on a regular basis. Every time I crumple into emotional rubble. Any foundations I raised for myself weren’t made to deal with quakes like these. I care too much about the people in my life to flippantly dismiss the suffering of others. They become placeholders for loved ones whose loss would devastate me. When I read about dying children, I think of my niece, her parents, how they would feel. When I read about people my age who were murdered or abducted it hits close to home. In my head it’s not a stranger, but my best friend, his brothers and parents who were like a second family. When people write of their spouse’s sudden death it’s too much because nothing can stop me from thinking of my girlfriend. The thought of a world where I can’t see her smile crushes me under its sheer gravity. It’s not just my waking moments, but my dreams. Of course, death and loss are inescapable and inevitable. It’s that inevitability that cuts so close to home. Signs of our mortality are everywhere, but that doesn’t curb the dread of an empty hourglass.
I’m not shitting on teens here. It’s easy not to care about others when life hasn’t proven why you should. The reward of empathy is elusive until you realise how deep that river runs. That takes time and matures with experience. I’m beginning to see that now. Everything fades as the years wane, but the value of love never does.