Dearest Rachel –
Long ago, in my late teens or early twenties, I came to the conclusion that suicide was essentially a very selfish act. Those who did so, did so without taking into account how others would react to it. Each of us has an effect on the lives of others, and to cut your time short by your own hand deliberately damages – or even destroys – that effect, whether you mean to or not. Essentially, we have all had a ‘wonderful life’, to one extent or another, and we need that brought to mind before we make such a momentous decision, because at that lowest point, we’re certainly not aware of it.
However, it occurs to me that the opposite desire can be considered equally selfish. To live forever is to be subject to the heartbreak of watching everybody you’ve ever known and loved… leave. Your beloved Doctor is known to suffer from this trope, although it can be pointed out that in this case, it was neither asked for nor necessarily desired. In order to truly enjoy immortality, one must have to not give a gibbon’s glutes about anyone else, because they are all going to die, while you continue to live. So there’s no point caring about any of them. It’s why it hurts the Doctor so in certain incarnations.
It also tends to be a characteristic of the… hero? lead character? of Greek tragedy (think of Oedipus in Sophocles’ trilogy about him); they’re not the ones that die, but rather find themselves standing at the end, surrounded by the corpses of their loved ones, bemoaning the fact that they are the last ones standing, rather than celebrating it. That is true tragedy.
I mention this because, while it probably shouldn’t come as any surprise, I’m discovering that the longer I stay behind on this planet, the more people I continue to lose. I’m not suggesting that I’m some tragic Greek hero; heck, I’m pretty sure I’m not even the lead character in my own story, but I’m starting to get a taste of what that’s like.
I say this to give you a heads-up; if you haven’t already seen him, be on the lookout for cousin Jim.
Actually, he’s been up there, I guess, since last Friday, but I don’t know how time for you works up there. So whether this is news to you (because of the infinite space that I imagine heaven to be – how quickly does news travel up there?), or if you and Dennis and everybody else from the family who’s already up there knew about it long before any of us did, I couldn’t say. But I figured I’d mention his passing to you, because of the connection between the two of you that literally introduced you to the family – to say nothing of the circumstances that caused it all. In a way, it’s all come full circle.
From what little I’ve heard of the story, it was just about as sudden as your passing. Evidently it happened as he was preparing breakfast for himself. He had a standing weekly Bible study on Zoom on Fridays, and when he didn’t show up, someone from the group arranged for a wellness check.
Imagine being so faithful to a Bible study that your absence more or less immediately prompts such a response. To be sure, it did him no good in the end, but that sort of response serves as quite the credit to him – and to his classmates who thought of him at the time. That’s something worth having said about oneself when one’s time comes, if you ask me.
At any rate, by the time either the police or the EMTs got there (I honestly don’t know who came by as part of the wellness check), he was long gone. In fact, the microwave door was still open from breakfast. I don’t even know if he got his breakfast out – but presumably, he didn’t get a chance to eat it. Although, considering what we’ve been told about the marriage supper of the Lamb, it’s not as if there’s any problem showing up in heaven with an empty stomach. It’ll be taken care of, just like every other earthly concern.
With all this being said, perhaps you’re wondering why I bring this all up. After all, the last time any of us in the immediate family had seen him was before Christmas of 2020, when the family get together was on Zoom. That’s right; none of us have seen him since the last time you did, for that matter. He’s quite literally a distant relative, living by himself in Minnesota. So why is he so important?
Of course, it may be that you’ve already figured out why he’s significant to you and I specifically; even at dinner yesterday, several of us remembered the incident (although Jenn didn’t, even though she was the catalyst – the fact that she wasn’t there at the time was the whole reason it started). To be sure, I’ve told the story at least once before, but it could stand a refresher.
It was a curious collection of circumstances that brought it all about. Your J-term trip to Greece and Italy, which was called off by the initiation of Operation Desert Storm, leading you to wind up at our house for a while after I picked you up from O’Hare on you class’ return to the States. The passing of my great-aunt Hazel (Jim’s mother – I assume you’ve since met her up there), and your accompanying us to Beloit, as we joined the rest of the extended family in paying respects. The fact that Jenn was already back at ISU for the new semester, and was unable to come. And finally, the fact that Jim was unaware of this when he approached the two of us from behind.
He gave you a hug before realizing that you weren’t Jenn, and immediately backpedaled with an apology, to which you responded, cheerfully and completely unphased, “I’m not Jenn, but I’ll take the hug, anyway.”
That was the moment you won over the whole family in a single line and a single action, without really any effort to. You weren’t even trying; you were just being yourself. And that was what did it, with the story going down in family lore ever since.
So, when you do see him up there, I probably hardly have to tell you (and for all I know, you’ve already greeted him with one in any event), but give him a hug. If for no other reason, for old time’s sake. I’m sure he’s missed it.