Many say they wish to slip quietly from life. To go without knowledge of the going, to be struck unaware, or rather not struck at all. I think I understand the grounds, the emanation, of this desire. And it is a deeply individualized desire each must come to terms with for his or her self. They say they want their erasure to be peaceful. To pass suckled in deep sleep’s sweet sublime basement of self. It sure seems to get the job done without active effort, painlessly. This very relief, however reliving it may be, has come to be seen as, under many recent awarenesses and events of mine, duty dismissal, and a very important missed undertaking of responsibility. This is the very tragedy of fast ceasing: bypassing that critical culmination, your very telos, the fulfillment of all of your possibilities and the end of your not-yet, previously undulating before you in complex iterations. What one “gets over quickly” is not a prickly dilemma nor unwieldy mishap – it is your life. Pause on that gravitas. What it means to desperately crave that getting over, that getting over quickly. In certain bodily destructions and dismantlings this must be the here-and-now choice of the one in limbo. Those in these conditions strongly willing to want that Over immediately is a tragic element in our grand tragedy. When dying permits us otherwise, I advocate for a death stance quite opposed to this suppression. For, in the end, this constitutes a looking away, the easy way out of our existence. Do we not owe our existence more than a barely cognizant passive glance?
I am no prophet. This facing-toward of stark mortality I cannot claim to have originated. In one historical instance, it’s called being-towards-death and it’s Heideggerian. Many others, I imagine, have stumbled upon it. Blog-readers, please fill me in on variations. Despite its presence, generally and pervasively it is opposed. This April has enlisted me as a witness. I’ve experienced being with another in his dying moment of stark rage in the night as well as that softly gentle passing. Those abruptly fierce kicks despite last bodily throes, fighting a strictly comfortable oblivion. That contrasting succumbing to endless black. In painful times, survivors put up their shields and invoke a looking away, encouraging their dying to do likewise. Retrospectively I want to rip that breathing tube out and, in all seriousness, face it together. To bolster that facing-toward, however wretchedly true it was, which after unsuccessful fits diminished and evaporated into facing-away. By this time the question was silenced with which I berate myself for in my intolerance and immaturity: What do you have to say? became irrelevant, an inappropriate inquiry, asked too late for the wise man who had lost the battle in knowing in his end that dark is right.
There is something so terrible in it that I cannot shake or ignore. Images of resurrected personhoods, preserved in blissful bioluminescent netherworlds, plaster over the terror of the terrible. We cannot keep this searing fact for but a few moments of bearability, so we soon enough find solace and redemption in fantastical images of our newly deceased in grand, otherworldly Banshee flight. Even I conjured and used it in the rawest nausea of the situation that presented itself. Someone was dying. We rushed to be there in the dying process, to provide warm human companion, a mirage of connectedness in an isolating removal. Damn this requirement to forsake people. If only I could kill the killer.
Let me grant a reprieve and lift you out. However, I must warn you that I will drop you again.
Shortly before this rupture and these personal losses, which dismantled and infused angst into the smallest of the everyday, I had found my new blog content. Andrew Graham. I waited to write it for this platform. Something whispered to wait. Finding Andrew was one of those real moments in an immediate vicinity of placid sleepwalking. As my repetitive metaphors betray, this experience was a parallel form of the bringing back to bear facing-toward death, the tragedy inherent in life, which Andrew Graham did in a whisk of unguarded surprise. The day of his recognition in death was premature. For him as well as for me. It had to settle in, seed the ground, set the perimeter of what I was unforeseeingly about to pass through. His perimeter is a symbolic marker. It is four miles wide, his last four miles. I shall explain this highly idiosyncratic mythical imagery of mine as Andrew walks his perimeter with you, as he did with me.
This boy’s foot mileage, his four miles, came to me strikingly coincidental along multiple unrelated channels, a poignant symbol for me, understandably so much more to some, a full and relatable life, more than a lesson. I came across him alone, sharing his final condition. Caught up in the mode of the everyday, Andrew Graham entered into my world seamlessly, emerging into the middle of the aisle of a light rail train, a setting deeply ordinary and entrenched familiarly for me, my mobile home as I liken it. In this found connection through this video that found me, I saw the trappings of a late night ride to “your destination”, I felt the anticipation of walking over the bumpy yellow rider boarding strip he would cross as he exited, the hazy lights whizzing past reflective windows, a largely empty, jostling train, the inner fidgetiness of adjusting a shoulder bag and waiting hovered over the stairwell for the train to slow, the bright yellow-red spectrum seat stripes leaping at my core as if ingrained as deeply as my baby blanket is in memory.
I saw my being in Andrew as the video unfolded, for these intimate actions in these very intimate surroundings are me. There was a brief relatedness, an identity, with a life I did not know in any personal manner. Over and over I board, and ride, and deboard. I imagine he was used to the same. The video shows Andrew riding the train, prominent in the center of the camera’s view in straight jeans and a black jacket. He deboards.
In a personal journal of mine, I jotted the following, directly after witnessing this three-part video. I violently, and by surprise, wept for this intimate stranger. A life whose culminating offering occurred in the moment and manner of his death for people he would never know. He prepared me for significant losses that swept around me, like an unexpected wave surge or burst of transparent wind. He prepared me for my own nonbeing. How I could not anticipate his offering nor that I would indeed write about Andrew and so many more:
“I follow him off and through the bridge, down the stairs, all the way to the last stride that takes him off the right-hand side of the screen, the edge of the security camera’s field of view. There he embarks on the journey home; he departs from the social sphere of community into an elongated expanse along a four mile trajectory: he is alone and will never return to the world of others, the community. For these four miles are his summation. Our last four miles we cannot know in advance. This is both their tragic ignorance, their blissful ignorance. Staring death in the face, honoring Andrew Graham’s concrete existence, I now have the symbolic power inherent in four miles.”
He swirls around me as an apparition, such an intimate human connection, yet so far removed. Like, and among the ranks of, my personal litany of the heroic.