Yesterday I learned that an old high school friend had died at the age of 47, of heart disease. It was delivered to me by a cousin of my friend, who just happens to be my best friend from college. Such news hurt me sharply, hotly, and more than to be expected regarding someone with whom I had not spoken in decades. Today, my impatience showed when I failed to let the pan get hot enough before deglazing the onions with a shot of red wine. It was dinner, and I was sad and angry.
How to reconcile Death with pork ragu over pasta? Is this possible? My belly did not care. Hunger is its imperative. My soul, on the other hand, disagreed. I wept into my fist.
Hunger will not be denied. Nor will sadness. It is a peculiarity of my being that I am ever hungry unless I am deeply ill or otherwise disturbed to the point of collapse. The news of my friend's death pushed me to that edge. Yesterday, I wept over my keyboard, feeling simultaneously ashamed and indignant that I was reduced to such a state. There was no denying that my friend and I had drifted far apart over the past two decades. No communications had been had in the intervening years, notwithstanding the ease and facility of Facebook, Twitter and myriad other digital ways to find and connect. Perhaps it was partly that shock of realization that fueled my outburst at the stove tonight.
My friend had married, he had moved to Mississippi, he had become the owner of a country store. I was unaware of none of these facts of his existence. It seemed an impossible task to reconcile all this lost history with making dinner. Perhaps I really should not have tried. I was tired and sad and the walls between my day and my heart were breaking down. I thought back to the wakes I have known in my life, those impossibly strained gatherings where we met at the houses of the deceased or their family, and loved ones and strangers show up bearing platters of fried chicken, lasagna, potato salad and anything else grieving souls can think to pull together to succor those who have lost the most. Death takes its pound of flesh, and we can think of nothing but conversation and filling our bellies.
Then there was me, standing at the stove stirring a skillet full of sauce while waiting for the pasta to be done. Wiping my eyes, I had to grin thinking of my old friend. I knew perfectly well that he would not have tolerated any bullshit from me on this matter. He was a bright spirit with a world-class sense of humor. I heard his voice in my head, saying "Quit yer bitchin', you damn dumb Irishman, and shut up and eat!" In his honor, I complied. Even if the soul is empty, the belly must be filled.
Nearly fifty years on this planet, and time showed me just how far we may drift apart on the oceans of our lives. But I know, I know, how deep the currents run and how far they reach. The soul feels it when a part of its past departs this world. Currents of the heart pull and shift, and we feel the disturbance keenly across time and miles.
In memory of F.C., my friend. Good luck and godspeed.