I thought that I would end my journey through grieving (my grieving period finished) to an end with this poem. It’s a poem about remembering your lost friend. Remembering him or her as she was when you last saw him or her.
It’s a poem not about what could have been, but what never got to be. I think that that is the hardest part about mourning, you wonder what more could have been – no matter how much time you got to spend with that rare and wonderful life. It makes me sad that we pass by so many people in our time on earth rarely ever giving them a glance. It makes me wonder what we are missing by deciding to remain mute by passing by as if that person were a statue. Perhaps he would have nothing interesting to say to us; perhaps she would be the key to our enlightenment. We’ll never know.
Death has a way of making you stop and question that. With that little life forever and permanently severed from you, you wonder how well you really knew that person. When friends and family speak of the deceased, you realize there were sides to this person that you didn’t know (even if it was a little person with not much life experience).
In the mid-Twentieth Century there was talk of everyone feeling alienated. It was suggested that that was the normal existential condition of the human race. But is it really? Or have other factors been introduced to cause a rift between human beings?
As children, we are unaware of the different social borders and taboos are suggestions and guidelines. We find ourselves able to traverse over different social lines and expose ourselves to different worlds. Is it any wonder then that when the borders become rigid and we close ourselves off into those lines that we start to feel isolated, cut-off… alienated?
Perhaps a death in childhood is less of a tragedy and more of a reminder that life is precious and that carefree feeling of childhood fleeting. We should spend more time squeezing as much joy as we can from our life and less time worrying about those things that we do not have. Children see the world in front of them as fascinating and fun. Why do we lose that? Perhaps remembering that childhood friend is a way to reconnect with those pieces of momentary bliss, rediscovering that wonderful person you once were and, underneath it all, still are.
Here the poet’s memory of his deceased childhood friend pulls him back to those carefree days. His thoughts of his childhood friend frees him, beckons him back to a day when he could forget, when worry was someone else’s job and play was of primary importance.
It makes me remember my lost friend. He was a school chum who died too young. He was an artist and very talented. His drawings made me laugh and gave me a sense of solidarity with him. They were inside jokes we shared with one another. I was a guileless teenager (more so than most) and together we formed our own small country. We designed a flag and created our own anthem. And in our country Art ruled and we were free to create whatever we wanted for whatever reason. We didn’t care about fame or money or power, only about adventures and laughing and having fun and being whoever we wanted to be.
I miss my friend. I hope that I get to see him in heaven still drawing. I hope he’s keeping our flag safe so that we can fly it on a beautiful, pastoral hill (as beautiful as the Swiss Alps that we once viewed together). I hope that we can with good humor and compassion recruit more citizens to our country and that our influence will reach the living. Perhaps they too can abandon this ridiculous obsession with fame, power and money and take up the cause of compassion and humor and fun and being who they want to be, instead of who they feel they have to be. Perhaps love and community can win out over money and violence. Perhaps.
I’m certain that my friend is up in heaven wishing that upon all of us.
On the Death of Friends in Childhood
by Donald Justice
We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven,
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
Forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
Come, memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.