Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'm too young to have dead friends...

Today was Anthony's wake. It was the second day. I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen in a long time. Italians seem to love only one thing more than good food.... a good funeral.

It was deeply sad and incredibly depressing to see my childhood friend laying in a coffin. 15 layers of make-up on his face... his body cold and stiff, a black rosary clasped in his hands. Beside the dark wooden coffin, was a display of his school pictures lovingly put together by his family. That was the Anthony I remembered. The one who would eat cherry tomatoes whole while the juice and seeds ran down his chin.

The bald man with a goatee and glasses, laying inside of a coffin looked nothing like the Anthony I remembered. But, then again, what was I to expect after 16 years?

His family was, of course, devastated. There was lots of wailing. There were lots of tears and waste baskets full of crumpled tissues. The sense of loss in the room was tangible. The air hung heavy as if the weight of everyone's grief was thickening it, making it hard to breathe.

The first story I had heard was that someone had run a red light and hit the side of his car. The second story I heard was that he was rear-ended and that drove him into the intersection where he was hit by two cars, one on the driver's side and one on the passenger side. It was an accident. It was a tragedy of happenstance. Wrong fucking place... wrong fucking time.

But neither of those stories was the truth. I learned from his family the details of the accident. Anthony, on his way home from work, was sitting in the middle of an intersection waiting to make a left turn... without his seat belt fastened. A car slammed into the driver side of his car, causing him to spin into the traffic. Another car slammed into the passenger side causing his unrestrained body to fly out of the driver's seat and through the passenger door window knocking him unconscious and doing massive internal damage. He died at the hospital one hour later.

Once I heard that story, the anger started to rise in my heart. Not only was this a horrible tragedy... it had now turned into a needless horrible tragedy. The angry phrase keeps running through my head like a shouted mantra, "WHO THE FUCK DOESN'T WEAR A SEATBELT?!" It's generally followed by two or three interjections of, "SERIOUSLY?!" ala Grey's Anatomy style.

I guess you tell yourself, "Nah, not going to bother with the seatbelt. I'm just going around the block." We get to comfortable. We forget that we don't just wander along through life so we can die in our beds at the ripe old age of 90. We don't think a quick trip is enough time for an accident; a death. But death comes on swift wings. It only takes as much time as one breath. You breath in and you're alive. You breath out and you're gone.

I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?
I made the light to shed on thee its splendor.
Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?

- Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, No.32

I remember when that crazy scientist lady from Deep Blue Sea said that she wanted to wander off and get her research data because "without that data, everyone dying isn't just tragic, it's useless." And LL Cool J responded, "Death is always useless, Doctor."

I try very hard to understand things like this. I never feel sorry for the person who's dead. Oddly, now that I look back on all the funerals and wakes I've been to, I have never felt sad for the deceased. It's the grief of those of us left behind that devastates my heart and causes my soul to wail. Anthony is beyond pain now. According to what I understand about the Baha'i teachinges, the next world is like a paradise where we manifest all the divine attributes of God in an effort to bring us nearer to God. It is an existence of true felicity and joy. If that is truly what the next world is like, then I do not mourn Anthony. But I feel such empathy for his family.

The melancholy sound of the weeping and sobbing rose and fell in the room like some sort of bizarre symphony. It pushed its way into my ears and made me want to weep along side them.

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