“So it’s not about the deaths, exactly. I mean, not for me.” I blink once, twice.
You blink back.
“Death is an expected part of life. It’s inevitable. We know that from the moment we have a rational thought in a maturing, self-aware brain. We become aware that we are alive, that we exist. We revel in the fact that this state seems to have no discernible end. We live without plan, as there does not seem to be a need for one, really.”
“Go on,” you say.
“We age”, I say.
“Ah, now the joints creak and crack, the brain becomes soft and forgetful, and our eyes moisten at greeting card commercials,” you join in.
“Yes! We are dying, we think to ourselves, knowing full well that we are most likely doomed to endure these creaks, cracks, senior moments and embarrassing displays of emotion for at least another two decades, if not three. We are dying.”
“Of course we’re dying, you old fool. Of course we are. We’ve been dying since the day we were born.”
“Isn’t that what they say?” I ask.
“And who are they to be saying it anyway?” you retort.
“Oh. They’re already dead. I guess they should know then.” I look deep into my glass. No answer there.
“Of course we’re dying.” You are getting red in the face.
“But it’s not about the deaths, not exactly, at least not for me.”
“You’ve made that quite clear, old man. Quite. I still don’t have the slightest clue what you mean by it!”
“Death becomes that shadow, that fleeting, intermittent, unwanted guest that stops by to see us much more often as we grow older…”
“There are the exceptions, of course,” you say, interrupting me. “The tragedies, the shouldn’t have happeneds, the how could it bes, the oh, my God!s.”
“We endure those, ” I say, “out of sync with the the natural course of things, never to be explained or put right. What choice do we have?”
“No, I’m talking about the loss of parents, of aunts and uncles and grandpas and Memaws,” I continue. “The ones we expect but can’t quite accept. The ones who are related to us by blood or marriage. Family. They happen (where did the years go?). We grieve, personally, and deeply, and viscerally. Vocally. Verbally.”
“And what of the ones we feel close to but have never met?” you ask.
“What of our constant friends and companions during our childhoods, our living room buddies, our Saturday morning playmates? Our personal entertainers as we age?” you ask.
“We know them like we know ourselves because they are us, or at least they were, back in those days when honor and country and telling the truth and nickel candy existed and meant something.”
“Bob Keeshan, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts…” you recall.
“Fred McFeely Rogers, Donna Reed, Jerry Mathers,” I add, looking at you, expectantly.
“Wait! Jerry Mathers, you say? Brother to Wally and friend to Eddie?”
“I got you on that one, didn’t I?” I say, grinning just a little. “The Beaver, or at least Mr. Mathers,is still alive and well and will be sixty eight years old on June 2nd. You may breathe now.”
You slosh what is left in the bottom of your pint glass my way. I nimbly dodge it. These pants just left the dry cleaners yesterday.
“Merle Haggard.” You wait.
“Kurt Cobain.” I stare back at you.
“John Lennon,” you say. We both sigh and pause for a very long time after that one.
“Pat Conroy.” I think Prince of Tides and The Boo and The Water is Wide and South of Broad.
“You didn’t!” you exclaim, a twinkle in your eye.
“I did, all seven of them,” I say. “Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban was my favorite.”
You smile knowingly. “Prisoner of Azkaban, you mean.” Another reason we have been friends for years.
You’re right, of course.
“It’s not about the deaths, at least not for me.” I look down at my shoes.
“What is it, then, man? Spill it! Get on with it!” you splutter, forgetfully taking another pull, or trying to, from your empty glass and a long drag from your nineteenth cigarette of the day. (“It’s all right, I smoke much less than a pack a day.”)
“It’s not about the deaths.
It’s about the loss of life.”
“But those are exactly the same!” you protest. “What kind of word trickery are you perpetrating on me?” You tamp the cigarette out, reaching for the last one of the day’s pack.
“No, they’re not,” I reply. “Not at all.”
“Death is inevitable. We all die. None of us shall escape it,” you say, factually and dismissively.
“Precisely,” I agree.
Click click click, whoosh, puff, puff, puff.
“It’s the loss of life, the loss of minute pieces of ourselves, our past, our bedrock, our value systems, our icons, that makes not our coming death so difficult for us. No, when you get to be our ages, my friend, you’ve lost all delusional aspirations to immortality. It’s the life that’s left, the living of it when it has holes in it like Swiss cheese that is the monumental task before us. Living life without our heroes, our songbirds, our bards and our story tellers that makes the rest of our own existence sometimes seem so bleak,” I finish weakly.
“Ah, my friend,” you say, puffing and coughing and then settling down to take one long, satisfying pull. “You need only carry out your argument to its logical conclusion.”
I look at you, taking the last swallow of my dark brew.
“We are the heroes, the songbirds, the bards and the story tellers for the generation to come!”
“I didn’t know you could carry a tune in a bucket,” I say drily.
“I can’t! But you, my melancholy friend, can write. And I can, if I may say so myself, dabble a bit in oils.”
“That is true enough,” I agree, having seen your studio and its canvasses in various states of completion.
“As a matter of fact, I would wager that you will go home, put pen to paper and will have written out a rough draft of this conversation before I have shut my eyes for the night.”
You were right, of course. I had nothing to counter.
“I think this calls for another round. Bartender! Another pint for myself and my friend, if you please.”
Glasses in hand, we hold them up in gentlemanly salute.
“To life, and to sounding the horn not for death, but for the living and loving of it all.”
And we drink.