Loss, Love and Loyalty

broken-heart

Several decades ago a close friend of mine lost her only son in a senseless, tragic accident. He was in his late teens, on his motorcycle, on his way to work at a part-time Christmas season job. All of which added to the unspeakable sadness: a promising life cut short amidst the merriment of a season of joy.

Her friends gathered around to do what we could. We brought food, made lists of callers, tried to keep track of daily needs. My friend’s daughter, a best friend of my own daughter, suddenly found herself the middle child of three girls, all bereft of the one brother they had so loved.

In the large, shifting, changing, sorrowing group of those who came to the house  were a number of young men also in their late teens who had been friends of the one now gone from their midst. They said to the bereaved parents, “We’ll always be here for you. We’ll always remember Mark, and represent him in your lives.” The kind of thing people often say at such times.

These were teenagers. Ordinary kids starting out in life – who had been in their own share of ordinary teenage mischief. In the ensuing years they had their own share of ups and downs. But as it turned out, they were true to their word. They were there for Mark’s parents at Christmas and New Year’s, graduations he would have shared, special times he would have been a part of.

Time passed, Mark’s friends matured as his parents (and this writer) aged.

Recently, Mark’s father died. I happened to be back in town at the time – though like many of those young people I had gone on to life elsewhere – and was happy to be able to be with my old friend and her daughters at his memorial service. It was a bittersweet time: he had lived a full and honorable life; old friends had come to celebrate that life and talk of the good times we had shared. My daughter, still best friends with Mark’s sister although they live on opposite coasts, was there with me.

As I looked around the gathering after the service I slowly began to recognize middle-aged men I had known all those years ago. Several had married women I recognized — also from all those years ago. They were now telling stories of their own children who are starting college or launching their own new lives. They were Mark’s representatives. The stand-ins for their long-ago friend whose memory they would not let die, whose presence they would certify to the mother who lost him so long ago.clouds-stock-image

How to make sense of it all, young life cut short, long life come full circle? How, indeed, to make sense of life and death and loss and continuity?

Mark’s friends, I think, help answer those questions. Out of loss and tragedy come love and loyalty. Out of singular death comes communal life. Out of anguished sadness comes humanity. We all come and go, but we’re all in it together. For a few years or a few decades – but together.

 

Things that matter

My daughter, having survived intact when her truck was totaled on Christmas Eve, mourned the absence of her pit/Great Pyrenees puppy, who took off when the truck flipped. Apple the dog apparently decided things might be calmer in the wilds of suburban Atlanta. (Flo the very old part-Lab, opted to stay put; a two-dog loss might have been too much for Mom.)

Apple’s disappearance was the bad news. Here’s the good news: the outpouring of support, in the form of e-mails, Facebook postings and offers from childhood friends who hadn’t been seen in years to go search local pounds was overwhelming. It gets REALLY hard to stay forlorn in the face of love and support from friends, family and people you never heard of who are offering comfort and help.

At Nancy Pelosi‘s annual January gathering there was another kind of support in evidence — and for me another reminder of the value of lasting friendship. I got a quick hug from my favorite star Democrat, California senator Mark Leno, who is often talked about as a potential successor to Pelosi. He gets my vote: Mark Leno is smart, level-headed, perceptive and impeccably ethical. (We could do with more politicians who’ve had rabbinical training.) He is also still graciously loyal to his life partner Doug Jackson, who died of AIDS decades ago in the early years of that grim time. Doug was the son of old friends of mine in Decatur, Georgia, so my affection for the good senator goes far beyond politics.

The bad news is that wars and sadness are everywhere. (Though Pelosi listed her priorities: jobs, safety — read: gun control, immigration reform and overturn Citizens United; that would spread joy.) The good news is that friendships are more powerful than all of the above. And if you hang onto them you can nearly always get a hug when you need one.