Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Six Feet Under

One of the strange aspects of working at the alumni office is that I'm responsible for putting people in touch with friends they haven't seen in years. Normally, this would be a joyous procedure, my heart heavy with the knowledge that I reunited friends so they could rehash years spent young and happy in New York. But sometimes things turn sour. Like this afternoon, for instance.

A gentleman called searching for a man who had been the President of the Alumni Association a few years back. The guy he was looking for had a pretty common name, so I had to wade through a bunch of data in our Alumni database to figure out who it was. When I finally stumbled upon the correct entry, the word DECEASED appeared in big, bold, red letters. I had to tell this man that the friend he hadn't spoken to in a few years, and was now tirelessly searching for, was dead.

There aren't many jobs I can think of where you have to be the bearer of such bad news: police officers, doctors and nurses, medical examiners. I never would have linked the alumni office with having to tell people their friends are dead, but now it makes total sense. And it scares the shit out of me.

Everyone's afraid to die to some extent. For me, I'm not as afraid of dying as I am of having those around me die. It used to keep me up at night. I remember one particular instance when I was in elementary school, lying in bed, getting myself so freaked out over the potentiality of my Dad or Mom just randomly up and dying some day that I ran to their room crying, begging them to never die. It's the finality of death that I can't comprehend. As an Athiest, I believe that when someone dies, they're gone - their body and their spirit. But that's so bleak and depressing that I can see why people turn to religion in times of suffering.

The smallest things move something in me -- catching a glimpse of a birthday party in a downtrodden LES basement, lifeless balloons floating along the ground -- a dog without a leash -- the way the sun hits my walls as it sets. If all of these things make me feel so deeply, how do I ever expect to contend with death? I've never had anyone super close to me die. And I'm so superstitious and OCD-ridden that even by writing this I feel I'm casting myself a fate of unavoidable death and despair. I hate planes and cars because I am afraid of crashes. Every time my phone rings at an inopportune minute - the middle of the night, early morning - my mind immediately flashes to someone calling me with tragic news. So much of my life and the way I operate is dictated by this intensely human fear of death and our inherent avoidance of it. So when I'm forced to meet it head on - "I'm very sorry sir, but according to our records, your friend passed away about a year ago" - it makes the world seem grey, somehow. Made of stone and silence.

Am I being too emo? Give me a break, I had to be the fucking grim reaper today.


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