Death, never rewritten

June 15, 2008

Odd what catches one’s eye. In Saturday’s Oregonian, a story about a man’s death at the coast invited a quick read. Why I’m not sure. The story was terse, as such stories usually are and have to be because of limited space: a for-the-record summary of another tragedy, another person dying too young.

This morning I read a piece written by the man’s close friend, posted on an indispensable web site about Portland’s robust food and drink scene. (Both men are/were restaurateurs.) A dispassionate account with passion roiling beneath the surface.

Against my will, I was transported into the lives of others, people I don’t know, people I have no reason to care about. As the two men’s relationship flowered in the words, the dead friend lived again, his zest for life and his failings. The ache of grief ambushed me.

The story is also the same one told endlessly, the one that will be told about all of us. A life flaring like light, some brighter than others, destined to dim. What always lingers is regret. Why didn’t we make more of our moments, our time together? We know the story’s outcome, but most of us seem incapable of improving the plot. (Read Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death to better understand our relationship with the inevitable. You’ll never view yourself and your place in the world the same way again.)

Thinking of how the living feel about the dead makes me wonder what the dead feel, if they can, looking back. What if they experience everything again and again, a surround sound movie of images and feelings, more intense than in life? A vivid non-stop rerun of our mistakes and opportunities missed, a shouted magnification of our regrets.

That could be hell.