Death of a friend

Flowing watersI hadn’t known him too long. A couple of months at the most. But the news of his passing came as a shock nevertheless. Especially because he was so young. So nice, friendly, sincere.

Little would he have known, when he set out on a picnic, that it would be one of his last few acts in this lifetime. I can imagine him waving goodbye to his dad, to his sister. And then jauntily putting on a pair of sunglasses even as he headed towards the waiting bus.

It was supposed to be a day full of adventure, of negotiating swift river currents secure in a raft packed with colleagues. With friends. But before that adventure could begin, he decided to undertake a small swimming adventure of his own. Of course it proved fatal. The water had been calling out to him, as Death often will do, in forms benign yet deadly.

And, like Death, it brought him down. To a place where he couldn’t fight anymore. Nor think of an escape from the inevitable.

God knows how it feels to want air, so bad you could die. I tried holding my breath in the shower this morning. It lasted for maybe 30 seconds and didn’t feel all that bad. But I had always had the option to quit. Quit before the panic could take over my capacity to think, to get out of there.

Just imagining it makes me queasy. I cannot trust harmless, bottomless water anymore.

Death by drowning. And then you feel no more. Not the swirling darkness of the water, not the fish come to get their pound of flesh from what remains of your earthly existence. Not the gentle falling and rising from the riverbed to its surface. Again and again. Just like breathing.

It’s not so unbelievable, when you think of it. People die in accidents, in plane crashes, of old age and sickness – even in their sleep. But when those people have a name that rings a bell, a face you recall, a guileless smile you will never forget, then the whole equation changes. It is part of the selfishness of being human. The moment you know someone, they stop being a statistic. The existence of that person in this world takes on an importance all its own. And the ceasing of that existence, the power to make you dream of slimy riverbeds, night after restless night.

I had never attended the funeral of someone my age, before. I hadn’t thought I was old enough for that to happen. But it did. Just one evening ago.