My phone vibrated on the dining table in front of me and a message flashed up.
“Ryan died yesterday” Three words from my friend Cara that I could not believe.
Propped in my eyeline on the table next to my phone was my iPad, showing the first ball of the day’s cricket game. Men in white under a blazing sun. To the right of the screen was my coffee mug. Vapors showing its freshness. The white mug contrasted with the square black coaster it stood on, protecting the cherrywood table underneath.
Through the arch from the dining room was the lounge of my mother’s house. She sat on one side watching her own preferred Saturday morning viewing. Next to her under a black and orange throw was the shape of a blob, recognizable as a sleeping dog by a tail poking from one end and a snout poking out from the other, acting as the cozy Jack-Russel’s snorkel.
As I sent that message to Cara, I received the next one from her.
“He’d been ill for a few weeks and was being moved from the ICU”
I can’t remember the rest of that message exchange. I do remember the shock. I’d only seen him a few months earlier. He was less than 10 years older than me and seemed in good health. He was. Then he wasn’t. And then he was gone.
Although it would be an exaggeration to have called him a close friend, I knew his deepest thoughts at least as well as most people who’d known him for decades. He’d been on 3 of the 4-east coasts of the US retreats I’d co-run with Cara. A time and a place where everyone would open up and share in a non-judgmental, safe space.
I sat, coffee untouched as it went cold, my mouth dry from being open and my mind tried to make sense of the news, of Ryan, of life itself. Sense could not be made that day, however long and hard I tried. A bunch of unknowns. Unknown time, unknown date, unknown place, unknown cause. Inevitable. Unknowable.
Many years ago, I played with my mobile phone at the table of a restaurant where I sat with my mother, father and brother. My father asked me what I was doing on my phone.
“I’m looking at the calendar of every month of every year until I’m 125 years old,” I said.
“You what? What for” my father said back.
“Well, the chances are I’ll see the day I die if I go in the calendar up to when I’ll be 125,” I said
My father leaned forward, with wide eyes, mouth open.
“Did you hear that?” he said as he nudged my mother.
“Bloody typical of you Wyn. Have you chosen what you’re having” she said to me pointing at the menu?
It’s not some kind of death-wish, nor am I obsessed by my mortality, yet I’ve always had thoughts of what life and what death mean in general, and what my life and my death mean to me. I tried to figure it all out. For many years, I felt I had to figure it out. And the harder I tried, the less enjoyable my life was to me.
One day, when I wasn’t trying to figure out the meaning of life; it struck me.
Maybe the meaning of life is to live.
Full stop. Period. C’est tout.
That thought came to me about 10 years ago. Since then, it has kept unfolding. Deeper. I don’t pretend to know if it’s right or not. Yet as the months and years go on; births and deaths roll on; it feels true.
My mother said to me after her best friend died back in 2016 that death is strange.
To me, it’s life that’s strange. It’s life that’s worthy of awe. It’s life that is precious.
A random selection of sub-atomic particles, that have formed into atoms, into molecules into compounds, into cells, into life forms with the ability to think, react, respond, recover, heal, reproduce, and be aware. Sophisticated structures that house consciousness. Sentience. With the ability to love, able to experience the world of form via our senses, able to imagine (with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that can come from that), able to make our sense of self up and able to get insecure as a result of that.
To be able to feel things that aren’t happening and never did happen. To consume oxygen from the air without conscious effort. To fall asleep. To wake up. To do all the things a human can do in a skin suit, for a finite amount of time.
Incredible. Every single part of that. Incredible.
Ryan’s end of being alive reminded me of that. The bigger picture. Maybe I can worry less. Maybe I can be less irritated at trivial things. Maybe I can be less afraid of my own shadow. Maybe I can love more, judge less and play full out.
I say maybe to these things because I know I’ll forget. Thought will envelop me again. A hundred times a day.
And with all of this, I’m so grateful to glimpse that bigger picture now and again, in all its wonder.
Ryan, I’m glad we met. Thank you for being alive. And for helping me remember what matters,
With love and gratitude,