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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Joy and Sorrow

This is a week for both. Yesterday one of my good friends defended his Master's Thesis, and one of my officemates (who also happens to be a good friend) defended his Dissertation. Both were successful. In anticipation of their triumph we have had an excursion to a local sports bar planned for some time. That excursion is to be tonight. Yet, at the same time, our excitement is tempered by loss. A member of our department has died. He was diagnosed with a serious illness some time ago, and he faced an uncertain future with pride and dignity. Recently, he died from complications of this disorder and its treatment. This afternoon my department gathers to mourn his loss, and celebrate his life. I can think of no better way to exemplify the bittersweet joy of living than to see triumph and heartbreak mixed together so seamlessly.

As an Atheist, I sometimes think I deal with grief differently than many other people. For those who believe in an afterlife, death is only a hiatus in the relationship. These people believe that someday, somehow, they will be reunited with the person who has gone, and can then say whatever was left unsaid. For me, there is no such belief. A person who has died has gone, and will forever be gone. There will be no reunion, no second chances. I believe that there is little sense in mourning the loss of someone who has died- instead, you must simply be grateful to have known them, and rejoice that they once lived. If the universe is an uncaring place, then it is made warmer by our caring for each other. Meaning is not to be found in a mysterious and distant being who may or may not exist, the purpose of life is not that it will continue eternally in some mythic hereafter (As though purpose is related to quantity). Instead, meaning and purpose come from those around us- the flesh and blood and bone people who make up our world as surely as silicon and oxygen and iron are the body of the Earth. In those people, in that world, we never truly die because there we leave ourselves. Our lives shape those around us, and when we look at our friends we see not only them, but the marks we have made upon them. Today I will be with my department, with my community, and there I will see the soul of he who has gone- and I will rejoice, for I was fortunate enough to know him.

As I said, I do not believe in mourning yet, for this moment, I will permit myself that small indulgence. As I sit here at my keyboard, the weight of grief heavy behind my eyes, I will allow myself to feel the sadness of loss, and the heartbreak of the knowledge that I never told my friend how much his life meant. I never realized myself, until now. Orson Scott Card once wrote of the "Speakers for the Dead," men and women who would tell the tale of the deceased, the good and the bad, so that all might know them. I will not presume to such a task, for I could not perform it. Neither will I pretend to be a speaker for the living, as I cannot possibly represent us all. Instead, I will speak for myself:

You were a man of deep compassion, a lover of decency and justice. Yet, you wore your passion with grace and humility, never permitting your convictions to degenerate into self-righteousness. You cared about people, and sought to make those around you feel better about themselves. You liked to laugh, you liked to work, you liked to play. You were a man of courage and dignity, who showed us all how to face life with our heads up and our eyes open. You were not appreciated enough until you were gone. You will not be forgotten, and your gifts to us will touch everything we do. Through us, you will continue to move in the world. You enriched my life, and you enriched my world.

Thank you for your life.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


My sincere condolences go out to you and your colleagues. I hope those of us who are still with you can help to ease your loss.

Thursday, April 13, 2006 5:06:00 PM  

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