Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of Laura's death. I had fully intended to post something last night, but two things stopped me. The first and biggest obstacle was that I didn't feel like I had all that much to say. I've experienced several deaths of people close to me this year, namely my father, my best friend, and my grandmother. When my father died, I spent several days in the hospital by his side, and it was impossible not to go through that without thinking of Laura's final days. I've had my fill of intensive care units at this point, and would like to not visit one again for a few decades at least. Then, when Greg died, I felt frustration at my lack of ability to express myself, not just here, but to anyone, really. I know things about Greg that no one else will ever know and can never know. Our friendship wasn't just one of good times. Greg had stood by my side during some of my darkest moments, and there were bad times in his life where I had been the one person he could call and talk to. To fully explain what he meant to me, I would have to betray his trust, and I won't do that, even in death. But, it means that the stuff I can and will talk about with others feels hollow to me. I can tell the funny stories, and the safe ones, but the rest are effectively gone. I'm the only one that knows them, and I will never tell them. And if a story is untold, does it even exist?
The same is true of Laura. It's easy to elevate the dead, and talk about their wisdom, their humor, their kindness. But the Laura I knew was a very comlicated human being. I have no problem telling the world about her loves and joys, but, like all people, she was fully capable of anger and bitterness and even outright hatred. I feel free to tell the world she fought cancer bravely and loved life. But I was also there during the moments when bravery failed, and when she wasn't certain that going on another week or a month was worth the effort. I was there when she was tired and miserable and mean, and that, too, is now something I carry in silence, unable to share the specifics. It means that parts of Laura will never be known; when I am gone, those parts of her will be gone. It creates something of an empty feeling.
So, last night I had opened up my laptop and was staring at a blank Blogger essay field when my phone rang, giving me reason #2 not to post anything. It was an old friend of mine and she wondered if I had a minute to talk. I closed down the computer and went out to the deck and talked to her for a while. She had recently had a cat die and was feeling depressed. After Greg had passed away, I had told her that I was giving serious thought to starting an atheist ministry to give atheists somewhere to turn to during difficult moments, and she was in one of these difficult moments. She told me how the cat had been feral and she'd slowly tamed it, and during a vet visit had discovered a heart condition, and had been considering treatment options when the cat passed away. Now, in addition to being depressed over losing the cat, she was also wondering if she'd done enough. Maybe if she'd made different decisions with different priorities, she could have had the cat's heart condition treated earlier.
I told her that the opposite was also true. She could have done absolutely nothing with this feral cat. To feed it, tame it, and take it to a vet was much more than many people would be willing to do for a stray. In some alternate universe, maybe a diferent chain of events would have led to the cat living another ten years. But, in this world, you can never know how much time anyone or anything has. All you can hope to do is make the most of the moments that you do experience. The cat was happy, well fed, and cared for during the last few months of what was likely a very rough life. The fact that the cat didn't live longer didn't subtract from the good she did. Kindness need not be permanent to be important.
Today, I feel a little more at peace with my inability to fully explain or share all I knew of Laura, or Greg, or my father. Because, at the risk of stating the obvious, what I do now to memorialize them makes no difference to them at all. What made the difference isn't what I've done since they passed away. It was what I did when I was alive to show them kindness and make their time on earth a little better than it might have been. When I am gone, these moments I remember will be forever lost. But... so what? The kindness, the beauty, the sorry, and the truths I've shared aren't a product of the memories. They're a product of the moments. Moments are fleeting and ephemeral, and have a distressing tendency to slip past without announcing their presence. But, in the end, the moments are all that truly matter.
A lot of religion is eternity-centered. The dream seems to be to take the ups and downs and sideways of life and turn them into an unending sequence of only good times. The reality is all flipped around. It's not eternity that matters. It's the moments. One good moment can make all the difference in one good day, one good year, or one good life. You are probably surrounded by people who need this one good moment today. Go out and help them find it.