Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recommended Reading - Part II: Photographs and the Quiet Eloquence of Grief

piggiebackWe learned of Ben's death on Friday night. On Saturday, this image appeared on Daniel's blog.

My initial response was also wordless, merely a long, blank moment of silence. That morning I went out and took photographs. The result was an album titled East in the Morning, which I explained as follows: "When all else fails, I take pictures. On Saturday, September 29, 2007, all else failed for me in a way it never had before. So I did the only thing I could."

In the days that followed, some of us found words for what we were feeling. Some of us didn't. Below are the two posts I think of most often when I think of the days after Ben's death.

The first is my own, from Sunday, September 30 2007:
Where I Am
I am in a place where I can't believe it. Can't believe that I will never again in this life speak, laugh, drink with one of my best friends. And I don't just mean "I can't believe it." I mean that I can't. If I allow myself to believe it I will cease to function. When Mark called me on Friday night I broke down. Since then, I have not allowed my brain to accept this loss as real. I know that ultimately, that is not healthy, and that, ultimately, I will need to accept that reality. The problem is that every time I have started to grasp it, my brain goes wonky. It just stops being able to make coherent sense of anything. I'm not ready for that yet.

I am in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have several wonderful friends very close by. But here's the thing: the one thing I want, that I could conceivably have, more than anything else, is to have as many friends as close as possible. I don't have any details about a memorial service for Ben, but my guess is that it will be closer to here than to most of the places that the rest of you are. So if for that reason, or just because you need the comfort of the closeness of friends (I know I do), you want to come to Lancaster, do. This is an open invitation to any of my friends. I know it's difficult with work and school and the suddenly insignificant responsibilities of adult life. But if you can get away, if you want to come, please do. We a have a guest bed; we have an air mattress; we have sleeping bags.
Eat our food; drink our whiskey; be here.

 And the other is Daniel's, from a week later, Monday the 8th:
I wish Ben could read this entry and those that will follow. I would love to tell him that Patton is a remarkable young man, and a hick and a conspiracy theorist, and still quietly remarkable. I would like to tell him how much time we spent hanging out with his brother Daniel, what he taught me about Torah, and how great it was to see him playing guitar with Isaac, then with Dave. I want to tell him how his younger brothers and sisters climbed all over Brandon and Timothy. I want to tell him how Dr. Cary was at his house. I want to tell him I got drenched in sweat trying to keep up with his dad dancing to Hebrew dance beats. I want to tell him how much I now understand about his tangled and complex relationship with his family's faith.

Most of all, I want to tell him how Saturday night, after everyone else was gone from our campsite of college friends, I took the last remaining, half-charred piece of firewood down to the dock, doused it in lighter fluid, lit it and pushed it out onto the stock-still surface of the lake. And how I was worried for a moment it was going to run into a boat docked there and set it on fire. And how it was glorious. And how it was goodbye.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recommended Reading - Part I: Last Words

Twitter existed in September of 2007, but I'd never heard of it. Instead, when I had things to say online, I went to Facebook or, more commonly, Xanga. The same was true of many of my friends. I am so grateful for those blogs from our younger days. It's wonderful to have that history, however trivial most of it was, in our own words.

The last posts from the days before Ben died mostly reflect those day to day trivialities. Final posts from Bekea, Tina, and me are lists.

I run down a few tidbits, mostly about the recent release of Halo 3, that I felt the need to share:
I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for List Scream
  • The title of this post was funny in my head. Out loud it just sounds vaguely dirty.
  • I went into Circuit City today to buy Knocked Up and there was a video of Michael McDonald playing on the wall of HDTVs [missing video]
  • The release of Halo 3 was the single largest single-day sales event in entertainment history (that's books, movies, video games, whatever). $170 million in 24 hours.
  • The following comes from Halo.Bungie.Org, a Halo news blog:
    That guy's nuts.
    You think YOU'RE devoted to Halo? You ain't got NOTHIN' on Alterb0y, a soldier in Iraq. He had his wife pick up his Legendary Edition copy and FedEx it overseas. Legendary Edition of Halo 3: $129.99 (plus tax). FedEx shipping: $326. The ability to play Halo 3 with your buds in the desert - well, not quite priceless. I'm thinking it's closer to $600.
  • I expected a mention of Hotel Chevalier on the iTunes Store front page, but I have been unsuccessful in finding it by browsing the store. So, fo anyone looking for it, here's a link.
Tina's list is similarly mundane:
  1. i'm not dead, just super busy 
  2. golf outing kicked ass
  3. redskins kicked the eagles asses (sweet!)
  4. i have a meeting at the house on spring mill road with that weird bunny tree that gets dressed up for all the holidays. dude donates to bgcp and apprently his last name is HAAS, hence the bunnies. small weird world right?
  5. fix bit my nose this morning to wake me up.
sigh, more soon. promise.
Among other items, Bekea tells a funny story:

  1. this kid was running around our neighborhood in a grim reaper costume on sunday. i imagine it must be his halloween costume that he couldn't wait to use. Ellie saw him out the window and flipped out so much i finally had to close the blinds and curtains and bribe her away with treats. so later that day, this conversation took place:

    Dan: My mom says she won't like Halloween this year.
    Bekea: Really? Why?
    Dan: All the kids' costumes will scare her and people will be constantly ringing the doorbell.
    Bekea: (thinking how she's had kids go trick or treating and is in her 50s, so says, quite perplexed) But doesn't she know it's just a bunch of little kids? Doesn't she give them candy?
    Dan: Give it? She'll take it!
    Bekea: (growing ever more confused) But, why doesn't she just turn off their porch light then and not answer the door? Hasn't she been through this enough times to know? Why would she take it? That's just... I don't understand...
    Dan: What? How can Ellie give them candy?

    And here we realize that Dan has been talking about Ellie the whole time, while I felt, from his first sentence, that he was talking about his mom! (which I am fully justified in, correct?) So after much laughter and explaining, it was all cleared up. I'm not sure how Ellie will deal with Halloween and the constant flow of visitors in costume, but I'm sure she'll be just fine.
Elsewhere there are in jokes:
Yesterday, a colleague tried to dissuade me from attending an event by saying that it tends to get elitist.
I took it as a command to get my ass over there. I shouldn't be anywhere that's not elitist, and that's why I could never teach in a public school.

Carl would be proud. (What? You don't know Carl? C4? Carl?)
And plans being made:
I'm thinking of watching Match Point this evening. Any of the nearby-living folk possibly maybe interested in coming over and checking out the new couch? I'd be interested in offering dinner though I'm short of ideas at this moment.
 In my most recent post, I alluded to some great writing that sprung from people coping with Ben's death. Needless to say, this stuff isn't it. This is just where we were when it happened. Fittingly, Ben's final Xanga post is the most thoughtful of the bunch, but no less funny for it:
Montreal is pretty cool, i guess. New York's much better.

I don't read the Bible much these days, like ever. For a while now, i've found that the more i read it, the less i believe it; and i've wanted to hold on to the shreds of belief i've got, you know?

Same goes for church. The only church services i've been to in the past several years that actually made me take religion more seriously were Orthodox. But it's quite impossible to dabble in Orthodoxy, and i can't make the jump to fully believing it... it's pretty uncompromising toward the non-Orthodox and imputes deep meaning to things that seem, on the face of it, silly. (Of course, that's probably the attraction. It stands, on its own, and large.)

Regardless, i picked up a Bible today and read a little from Deuteronomy. Chapter 24 is good. Among other kind and beautiful things, it prescribes the rules for charity that are so important in Ruth: leave stuff in your fields so poor people can pick it up, basically. Two concepts: to you who have plenty, don't be stingy; to you who have need, go out there and pick it up, unashamed. It's an inspired system. (I use the word "inspired" consciously, of course.)

Only problem with ch. 24 is that it comes before ch. 25. Verse 24:16 says "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers" but 25:19 orders the Israelites to wipe the Amalekites from the face of the earth.

On the other hand, 25:11-12 says that if a woman helps her husband in a fight by grabbing his opponent's balls, "you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity." I'm not sure how to take that one. Doesn't it depend on the seriousness of the fight? And how hard she pulled?
Finally, over on Facebook, my last post before Ben's death comes on September 15th. It is a photo album: Lancaster in Black and White. And Ben's last Internet words are simple, but haunting: going camping in Pennsylvania with the family. Yes, it's a strange religious thing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

On the Occasion of the Anniversary of a Friend's Death

September 28th was a Friday this year, the same day it was 5 years ago. This Friday the 28th I worked till a little after 7 p.m. That Friday the 28th I was home in the evening, preparing a dinner that would never get eaten. It was Paula Deen's "Beef Bourbon Y'all." It's delicious, but I haven't made it since.

On that Saturday the 29th, I set out in the morning to take pictures. The result was "East in the Morning." This Saturday the 29th, I would have gone out to take a companion set, but I had to work. After work, though, I drove to Heritage Cove Resort to be in the last place that Ben was ever in.

I had been to Heritage Cove once before, just over a year after Ben died. That time, I was angry. I threw rocks at the lake. I didn't know what else to do. Recently Tina suggested setting the lake on fire. That idea has the added benefit that Ben would have thought it was awesome. But it wouldn't help. This year, I tried to get mad at the lake; I swore at it a couple times. I couldn't muster it. What good does it do to be mad at the lake?

I am grateful that I and so many of my friends blogged actively around the time Ben died. There is a record of those days, of what we were thinking and feeling immediately before and immediately after his death. One thing I have discovered about those blog posts is that some of them are extraordinarily well written. Watch this space (or Facebook, or both; I haven't decided) over the next month or so and I will post links to those I find most worth rereading.

Why the next month? Because, though September 28th was a difficult day this year, there is a more difficult day coming. On November 1st of this year, Ben will have been dead for longer than he was alive while I knew him.