Dear Clare

I’ve been doing some soul-searching recently. A post by another blogger upset me and I’ve been trying to work out why. It brought up a lot of feelings about a friend who died when I was a child, feelings I thought I had moved past. I was wrong.

I think the reason it upset me so much is because I’m not religious. I respect people who are but I don’t believe in Heaven; I believe I will never see my friend again and being confronted by her death was very painful. It actually made me cry and I haven’t cried in a long time.

What I realised from it is that I’ve never really said goodbye to Clare; I was too young to understand and I’ve never had a chance to make peace with her death. I wrote this by hand last night and the pages are still wet. I thought I’d make it public, as a tribute to my friend… and as my way of saying goodbye.

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Dear Clare,

When we were young we were close friends. What I remember about that time often feels more like a dream than something real, it was so long ago. And yet other times it seems as clear as yesterday. I remember how you could be so serious and yet your smile could light up the room; how your hair used to fall across your face. And how you were a loyal friend. I was never able to tell you what that meant to me… and then you were taken away.

I didn’t understand what had happened to you for a long time; how do you explain death to a child? How do you explain that some of us are born to live long lives and others to die as their lives are just beginning? Now when I think of you it’s tinged with sadness, not just for your loss, but because I never had the chance to say goodbye.

There’s so much of you I don’t remember, so much I wish I could. Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? A doctor? A dancer? When I think of you now I find myself wondering if you knew you were about to die. Were you afraid as you fell? Was your last sound a scream or is the last thing we should remember of you your sweet laughter?

I think about you often and wonder what kind of person you might have become. You’d be out of university now; or would you have chosen another path? You might have been married, a mother; a writer, an artist… you could have been so many things but we will never know. The only thing I know is you would have been a wonderful person, because you already were.

In many ways all that I am today I owe to you. When I remember all your potential and who you could have been, it makes me want to be a better person. The lives we might have chosen might have been very different but as long as I hold a piece of you in my heart, I feel that perhaps your death was not so meaningless and that you share in my life. It’s not much to offer but it is all I have to give.

Your death has stayed with me all these years and I realise I must allow myself to say goodbye. But it’s the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I don’t believe in God or Heaven; to me you are gone forever and I must accept that I will never see you again. That I will never see you smile or hear you laugh again; never be able to tell you what you meant to me. While I hold on to your death I cannot celebrate your life. And so I must let you go.

Clare, you mean so much to me and you always will. You will be in my thoughts and my heart; in my dreams and my words. I will never forget you and the joy your brief life brought to mine. I am who I am because of you and I hope you would be proud of me, as I have always been proud of you.

Goodbye, my friend. I miss you. I love you. I’ll remember you. Forever.

Christopher.

Friendship

When do you think it’s too late to send someone a birthday card? Is there some unspoken rule that it’s okay to be a few days late, but longer and you’re in hot water? I ask because usually I’m quite good with birthdays but I’ve forgotten a couple this year… one I remembered but got the dates mixed up, so ended up missing it by a few days. And this week I realised I’d left another birthday too late – I need to send it overseas and it’s going to be at least a week late.

I’ve been feeling guilty, mainly because now I’m not sure whether to send a card or not. On the one hand, at least I remembered; on the other, it could feel like an afterthought. Personally I’m happy as long as someone remembers; I don’t mind if it’s a bit late, but a lot of people get angry and would rather you didn’t bother at all if you’ve forgotten… isn’t that a bit extreme? It’s not like you’ve forgotten their wake and so they decide to haunt you from beyond the grave.

I think I’ll probably send it; it’s to an old friend, and I can save on postage if I send a Christmas card too. I know, I’m cheap. 😉 I’m just annoyed at myself because I don’t normally forget this kind of thing. Friendship is important to me. I’ve never been someone who’s had a lot of friends; I’m comfortable being by myself and I don’t need to be around people to define who I am. I have acquaintances and contacts, but my true friends I’ve known for a long time; we have the kind of relationship where we might not hear from each other for weeks or months but when we do we just pick up where we left off. I value that greatly.

What I’ve found interesting over the last 10 years or so is seeing how the way we think about friendship has evolved, particularly because of the ‘net. People my age are in an interesting position in that we’re the last generation to have grown up in a time without the Internet; I’m 23 but it wasn’t until I was just about to start high school that the ‘net became standard in schools here. Already it’s changed so much in 10 years; kids are growing up with the ‘net now, it’s a part of their lives in a way that it wasn’t for me until much later.

Part of the change online is because of MSN and social networks, how they’ve changed our lives. ICQ and MSN and Skype allow us to talk to people whenever we like for free, speak to people around the world; the ways we communicate and stay in touch have changed, and even the language we use has changed because of MSN. Likewise with networks like Facebook and MySpace allowing people to follow each other, the barrier between our online and real lives has become much smaller.

What we’re really talking about are acquaintances, though, not friends. But the difference between the two online seems to be narrowing and I’m not sure I like it. I’m a fan of Facebook but I hate these endless friends lists. I’ve seen people with over 2000 friends on their profile. That just seems crazy! I don’t use Facebook that way; I can understand several dozen friends, maybe 200 if you’re including your ex-classmates, but does anyone but Paris Hilton actually know that many people? People who do that seem to be using Facebook because it’s trendy rather than as a networking tool.

The same goes for MSN and Skype; I often hear from new people who I’ll chat with for a few weeks, and then we drift apart. I rarely expect it to become an online friendship; it’s just a way of meeting new people. But some people take it too seriously, and the opposite as well; it’s like any relationship, you need to be honest about what you’re expecting to get out of it or someone might get hurt. Often we seem to think that because the technology is so convenient and we can chat whenever we like, that our relationships online are disposable; they’re not “real”, so it doesn’t matter.

But is that really true, that a relationship online is less “real” than in our everyday lives? I don’t believe that. I understand why people can feel that way (I agree with some of it), but like anything I think it depends on the strength of the connection. I met two of my closest friends online. We may never meet in real life but that doesn’t change how I feel about them. We have things in common; reading, writing, experiences in life, ambitions. I have more in common with them than I do with most people I’ve met in my everyday life. And it makes sense, if you think about it. To meet people here I have to go to places where we might have similar interests, but online there are a thousand forums and message groups dedicated just to our interests. That we clicked out of all the people there is probably rare, but it doesn’t make that connection any less strong. And to me talking on Skype is no different that speaking on the phone; better as I can’t afford a video phone. 😉

I suppose in the end what matters to me most in any relationship is honesty; knowing that somebody is interested in what I have to say and that we share a connection. I’ve found that with blogging too; we share an intellectual connection and I might not visit a blog for a few days (or the last week… I know, sorry, I’ve been busy!) but whenever I stop by, I always find the discussion interesting, the voice familiar… to me that’s as real as anything else.

Anyway, this has just been on my mind lately, first because of the card and also because of Christmas. What I like about Christmas is the atmosphere and spending time with family and friends, but I think a lot of the time we take our friends for granted. We fall into the same patterns and expect our relationships to mean the same thing as we get older, rather than letting them evolve and change; it’s natural that the relationship we shared as children would be different as adults, or when we have children ourselves. Sometimes we can outgrow a relationship and it’s better to let it go than to continue taking it for granted.

That’s what I’m trying not to do, to take my friendships for granted… so I think I’ll go send that card because otherwise that’s what I’m doing. I can’t help but think that a card doesn’t seem like much, though. What do you think, should I send some chocolates or flowers? Or maybe a copy of Poison’s I Won’t Forget You? That’ll work. 😛

Are you afraid of death?

I’m not sure why but I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. Maybe it’s that we’re getting closer to Christmas and my mind’s been turning back towards the past, or that we observed Remembrance Day on Sunday and it’s been lingering in my thoughts. It’s not unusual for me to think about death; I’ve always thought that death, though sad, is a natural part of life and there is beauty to it, if you know where to look. But for some reason it’s been different this time.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve felt depressed, but my thoughts have lingered more on the process of dying than they usually do. I’ve had people I’ve known and loved in my life pass away before their time and it was painful; they didn’t seem like the same person and it was very difficult seeing them like that. Peaceful certainly isn’t the right word for their passing, but it was almost a relief to see them go in the end, their agony relieved. We had a chance to say goodbye, something a lot of people don’t have; for many people death comes suddenly and everything that they wanted to say or do is suddenly out of reach. That’s the kind of death I think must be the most difficult to adjust to, for everything to be normal, and then suddenly so different.

My poem from a few days ago is about death. I tried to write it in such a way that the reader could take what they wanted from it, but my inspiration was death. I had been thinking about what it must be like to know you’re dying, to know this or tomorrow will be your last day. What must that be like? Can any of us really know until we’re facing it ourselves? I think if it were me I would be trying to remember the moments of my life, perhaps the regrets as much as the achievements, the friends I had and hopefully would still have around me, and taking the chance to say goodbye.

I think under those circumstances death would be peaceful; perhaps still not something I would be ready for as I’m not sure I ever could be, but at least surrounded by family and friends I would hope it would be a time of remembrance rather than sorrow. Respectful. But to be honest I’m not sure if I believe that’s what would happen. I’m not sure what I believe any more.

I’m not afraid of death. If for some reason I learnt tomorrow that I only had a few days left to live, I wouldn’t fear it; I might be angry, or sad, or any of a thousand different emotions that I couldn’t possibly describe, but I wouldn’t be afraid. I consider myself a spiritual person rather than a religious one; I don’t know if there is something after death, but I would like to feel there is. But even if there isn’t that’s not something I would fear; death is natural and as long as we meant something to someone, that they held us dear in their hearts for a time, then I believe we live forever.

What I am afraid of is leaving people behind. Of leaving things unfinished… of starting down a path and finding I can only follow it a certain way. That to me is the scariest possibility of all. People say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I don’t believe that. Does anybody seriously believe that? It’s certainly better to have experienced than to have experienced nothing, but to have loved and lost is to have left someone behind… perhaps someone who depended on you, and needed you, and suddenly you aren’t there. Yes, if you’re the other person, you can love again and the pain will ease in time, but the relationship is different. Not better, not worse; just different. There’s something lost you can’t get back.

I suppose my one greatest fear in life is that I won’t measure up to my own standards. I look at myself and I’m relatively happy with who I am; I won’t lie and say that there aren’t things I wouldn’t change, moments I wouldn’t live again, or friends I wish I had stayed in touch with and miss dearly, but I take all that as a part of what makes me who I am. But no-one knows what their future will hold and I don’t know where I will be in twenty years. I hope I will be successful in the ways that matter; earning a respectable living, being a good person. I’d love to have a novel published, obviously, and to be secure in where I am. But I’m not sure I will be that. I feel like I’m at a stalemate right now that might last awhile. And if that’s true and I don’t achieve what I want, will it have been worth it?

I don’t know. That’s the one thing I can’t answer and that’s not me being negative, it’s simply that I do not know. How do you weigh what your mind says is possible against what your heart says it wants to achieve? By what measure do you weigh the soul of a man? By the life he has lived, the sights he has seen, the people he has loved? I would hope it is that, but is it really? I lost a friend when I was very young. It was a senseless death, just one of those things that happens for no real reason. I think she would have been a great person and I often wonder what she would be like today. We’ll never know, but I often think of her. And maybe I hold myself against that sometimes, even though I don’t mean to.

So I think that’s what I’m afraid of; not of death, but of what death represents, the measure of what you leave behind. Of course in the end there’s not much anyone can do except to live and value each moment, but I don’t think a lot of people do. I think a lot of people really are afraid of death, or if not death then of the unknown. They push it back as long as they can; they destroy their bodies in the pursuit of youth, they create conflict, they try to be remembered. We have an unhealthy relationship with death, particularly in Western culture; it’s a part of our lives but we try to ignore it or not think about it. And when we are touched by death, we grieve, which is natural – but we don’t always remember. We don’t see beauty, memory, life. And if we don’t do that, I’m not sure we really live.

My favourite poem is Kipling’s If. If you can dream-and not make dreams your master; if you can think-and not make thoughts your aim. I love those two lines in particular; I think they say so much about being creative, but also for how we should treat each other and value life. To dream, but not to dream so far that the dream becomes bitter when it doesn’t become true, in relationships, in life. I think that’s a good way to live and that’s what I try to do. I think most people probably would too, if they thought about it. It just saddens me when I turn on the news and all I see is… death isn’t the right word. Carnage. There’s nothing natural about what we’re seeing on our TV screens every night and that’s why I think it’s all the more important to hold onto some of the more peaceful aspects of death, if we can find them. That’s what I tried to represent in my poem.

Anyway, to anyone who’s got this far, sorry if this seems like a darker post… I’m just in a bit of a melancholy mood at the moment. I’ve said more here than I intended to, more about myself than I usually do… and that’s okay because increasingly this blog is becoming a window to my thoughts on life, and I can’t do that without investing some of myself into it as well. And it’s helping me sort through things more than I expected.

But I’ll have something lighter for you tomorrow.