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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Loss and Gain

Some years ago, my great-grandmother died. I was standing on the corner of 81st and Central Park West, about to descend into the moving bowels of the city, when my dad called with the news. For whatever reason, I'd decided to take a moment, look around, and was standing like a statue when the call came. If I had not paused, the news would've been delivered via voice mail. Instead, it was delivered directly, as I stared at the edifice of the Natural History Museum and the gaping maw of the C train station.

Death is death. It isn't a profound thing to say death exists, yet here we are. A meditation on mortality. Let us brush off the chestnuts--the dead are remembered, the pain is for the living, the journey begins at the moment the body ends--because all of that feels good, and right, and comforting.

Death is the ultimate cliche. We can live a life of originality and uniqueness, but in the end there is the end, and all of us do it. But then again, one can also say breathing is a cliche. I got nothing profound to say about death or the feeling of loss the living experience. The only way to bring something new to the slab, here, is if I were to die and then write about it.

Which isn't likely. Writing post-mortem thoughts, I mean. I'm very likely to die. Not very likely to comment on it after the fact.

One expects a great-grandmother to die, of course. Born when I was--which is to say, born of a teenage mother--I was lucky enough to have known all my great-grandparents more or less, and their inevitable ends were like stepping-stones in the river of time for me. Some parents buy their children goldfish to explain life's cycle; my parents gave me great-grandparents.

The last one to die was Ruby. She's who Dad called me about as I stood next to the Natural History Museum. And after the call, I'd like to say I decided to visit the museum. I'd like to say I went in, took in the giant whale and the minerals, reflected on the history of Earth and all the things it has offered up to us.

But nah. I closed my flip-phone, and sank down into the Manhattan land, grabbed the C train uptown, and emerged at 103rd Street. Ascended like a newly-minted god, and walked home.

And I say newly-minted god only because I had to walk up some stairs. I in no way wish to imply I became a deity. If I had, though, I'd like to think I would be benevolent, and kind, and understanding.

Loss happens. Even prepared for it, we are unprepared. Again, there is nothing profound to say about death unless you do it and manage to communicate a bon-mot after the fact. But the grief of surviving can be quite profound. Being alive, taking in air and sun and feeling blood coursing through your veins, forming thoughts and having small moments. There is a profundity in life that can't be articulated. Some days, just getting out of bed, cliche as it is, is a profound statement to the Universe.

Reflecting on loss is not something I do well. I--me--hate losing those I've known, and I've lost a lot of knowns to both death and to time. This is also a cliche: I love.

It's simple. I am bad at life, but I love those who are in my life. It is a terrible thing to wish, but an honest thing: When getting a call about a loved one's death, may you all be standing next to the Natural History Museum. It won't give you any insight into death, and it won't give you any comfort. But it will offer you a chance to go inside, and for a moment get that you're a part of a world that is worthy of a museum.

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