Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
One night in Prague, my best friend collapsed and couldn’t get up. It was the end of a long and difficult weekend, and there wasn’t a single moment of it in which someone wasn’t drunk or crying or dying. 13 pairs of hands lifted her crumpled body and carried her home down the Czech streets as if she was a fallen martyr and this was a political uprising.
“It was all my fault. I could have saved her,” she repeated.
To this day, she only has fleeting memories of her elegiac airlift into the night. But I vividly remember holding her head, wiping the tears from her cheeks while tears from mine simultaneously dripped back down onto hers.
I thought about how terrible it is to live.
The stupid thing about death is that it’s more painful for the people who are left alive. That statement will probably receive a lot of criticism, and I suppose it really depends on the nature in which one dies and one’s religious beliefs.
If you’re like me and do not believe in an afterlife– or at least not one in which a soul burns for eternity– you must agree that we will mourn a death for weeks, months, perhaps years, but the lost life itself feels no prolonged pain or suffering because it is dead. And if you’re really like me, you might even find some solace in the Law of Conservation of Mass first described by Antoine Lavoisier in the 18th Century. This is the law that states that matter is neither created nor destroyed. It only changes form. We only change form.
If you’re of the other camp and do believe in a form of heaven or hell, then you must believe that the subject of your mourning had redeeming qualities, was worthy of your love, and therefore will be accepted into heaven. Otherwise, you would not be upset about this death in the first place. In this case too, the lost life experiences no continued pain since they are in a better place.
And so the true burden falls to the ones left behind. We’re still here. We’re faced with the task of reassembling the many lives that have been shattered by a former one, and at the same time we feel guilty, that we are somehow at fault. It’s wretched, it’s unfair, and it’s the nature of death.
“Steve, you’re an asshole.” “You’re right. I am an asshole!”
Living isn’t so bad, though. In Prague, there were always a dozen hands for when each of us couldn’t get up. The funny thing about tragedies is that they tend to bring out the best parts of people, and they have the potential to incite the greatest amount of change. I’ve started hugging acquaintances and strangers a lot more. I’m also a medium-small, unthreatening Asian girl, so this does not usually come off as creepy. And I’ve started calling my mom more and involving her in my life. I’m eager to make human connection because I’ve seen how important it is.
At the bottom of everything, all we have are those near to us. We may be the ones left behind, but we’re becoming better human beings now because of it. We only change form.