Wednesday, April 30, 2003

(OK, OK, my public is clamoring for continuation of this blog. Well, it's a quiet, refined clamor. Well all right dammit, it was just one person. So I'm easy. Sue me.)

Reading the Obits

I've started doing something I never thought I'd do: reading the obituaries. It started after my father-in-law died last fall. Soon after, I saw that the father of a grade-school friend had died; I went to the Visitation that night and saw CT and her sister, whom I worked with in the late 1980's, and got another bonus: the sister had also worked with a guy who was in grad school with me, and he was there, too. I hadn't seen him in *years*.

Then a couple of months later, I saw that the mother of one of my best friends in high school had passed away. I'd lost track of KE and no amount of googling had unearthed her. Now at this sad occasion I would be out of town and couldn't even attend the Visitation. I called the funeral home and gave them my phone number to pass on to my friend. (It was a long obit; KE has twelve brothers and sisters! Unusual in the Protestant denomination we'd belonged to.) The next weekend KE called me from her home on the East Coast. We caught up on all the happenings in our lives over the past 25 years, and now we email each other a couple of times a month. She hasn't changed a bit; just the sight of her name in my emailbox brings a smile to my face.

A two-minute nightly scan of the Deaths page over a couple of months, and two heart-warming re-contacts. The behavioral scientists call this "intermittent rewarding," and it's one of the most powerful conditioning tools known. (It's especially effective in fostering and maintaining gambling addiction.)

So now I read the obits almost daily. I look at the last names first to see if any ring a bell. I think I've seen the parents of a couple of grade-school-mates but we weren't close enough for me to try to contact them.

Then I look at ages. I'm amazed at how many people die in their 40's and 50's! And I have that sneaking feeling that oldsters before me have admitted to: "I'm older than that! I beat her!"

Aha. So it's the Grim Reaper I'm playing hide & seek with here. That's probably why I finally started sorting through the old photos, and reading my old journals, too: totting up, as the Beatles said. I'm at that time in my life when I'm looking back, seeing what I've been through, what I've accomplished, and where I've failed. What's changed about me and what hasn't.

While I'm resolutely forward-looking (nine inch nails vs. the Beatles; Bright Eyes vs. John Denver), this process is necessary, I think, to keep me grounded--or maybe it's to give me a firm springboard for whatever the next step is.

I feel like I have gained some wisdom and that's a direct product of all my fuck-ups. Reading my journals, I realize that there are some areas about me that are still the same, and shouldn't be. In other aspects I've made huge strides--sometimes because of a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears; other times I have no idea how I got from There to Here. There are regrettable gaps in my journals, and even more numerous and gaping ones in my memory.

I don't feel the scorn my younger self expected to feel at the Now Me for reading the obits (which could serve as a nick-name for this whole process). I feel pretty content right-now-this-minute, and that this is right for me now.

And...I'm a little pleased that I have that compassion for myself. That above most other things is very hard-won indeed.

No comments: