Everyone goes away.
In our lives we are forced to deal with death. Death – when the strings of a human instrument are cut loose, and all the music from that glorious vessel suddenly ceases to harmonize with our own melody. And for the rest of our lives we think on how sweet the lifesong with those long since passed players used to be. So the rapturous joy we once knew sours to ashes, and eventually the warm, golden light of memory mercifully seasons our sorrows into a palpable bitter-sweetness.
Death steals the spark of life, but it can never snuff out the fires the spark set alight while it burned brightly. Our lives may end, but the effect our life has on others, that is something that can endure long after we are less than dust.
Death is natural.
We understand it.
We walk hand in hand with it as an eventuality, though brooding and terrible it may be.
But there is a more terrible calamity than death and its name is abandonment.
Abandonment is the monstrous brother of death.
Death is a circumstance – Coming sometimes in the form of the midnight robber and other times in the guise of a metaphysical tax collector.
Abandonment is a choice – a mask of conscious delinquency that we choose to wear when love appears all too exhausting.
Do you struggle with the thought of people leaving you?
I know I do.
Every since my heroic, and beautifully hospitable Uncle Sonny died in 1993, I started coping with death and the emotional poverty it inflicts. When Sonny died I saw how it destroyed my mother, casting her into a depression that still has the ability to diminish her today.
When she talks about him now, over twenty years later, the wound still seems fresh.
I saw how his death wounded my Grandparents, Nanny Joy and Pa Lee. Nanny would talk to me about it sometimes while she sat on her enclosed porch while smoking a cigarette. This warm woman of incredible mirth would cast her eyes in some strange and distant fashion toward the ever lowering waters of Lake Leon – the pain of losing her son flowing out of her like an inexhaustible wellspring.
I saw how death changes people. I saw how it steals a portion of us away from ourselves when it robs us of those who help give us identity.
Human beings don’t have a choice in death. It’s why we do not hold dying against the dead.
We do, however have a choice in the effort we place in loving those around us. Which is why it hurts so very badly when the people we love choose not to love us in return. That’s why abandonment is one of the most powerful tragedies we can inflict on someone else.
And if I’m not being clear enough about how abandonment and death are different, let me use a visual aide on what abandonment looks like.
I could have shown you the vast garbage mountains in India where first world nations have abandoned their care for their fellow man, and turned their home into a trash pile. I could have shown you the plains in Africa where a child with a swollen belly is dying of edema.
Instead, I wanted to show you that a parent chose booze over a child they created – a person abandoned love for the contents of a whiskey bottle. Because to them, their child stopped mattering more than the drink.
Human beings are their most cruel, not when they say “I hate you,” but rather when they say, “You don’t matter.” When we decide someone is irrelevant.
Irrelevant. What a horrific adjective when applied to the noun: human.
And it’s that arsenal of weapons, the weapons of dereliction that I am most afraid of. I’m afraid that people, no matter how hard and valiantly I try to love them, won’t love me back.
Not because I’ve wronged them, but because I’m irrelevant.
As human beings we need to matter. Belong.
We need to know that someone is waiting on us. Hoping to commune with us soon.
That there is a community with a hole cut into its fabric that is in our shape, and that only our unique form can fill it.
But when we tell someone that they don’t belong, we impose exile.
We wound them with the the knives of detachment.
We uncouple them from the connection that helps give them shape and purpose.
We neglect them.
We stop loving them.
And that’s where this infirmity of mine is chiefly rooted, because I feel loneliness and abandonment very deeply. It may have something to do with being the son of an alcoholic or having a clarity in solitude that I can’t find in the company of others most times. I am so afraid that if I’m not throwing my full affection at others they’ll forget about me. I worry that that the novelty of me will fade, and I’ll just be another mundane face in the crowd of faces my friend used to so dearly enjoy the company of.
A faded echo of a friendship.
Or that like the picture above, I’m afraid they’ll pick something else over me. Or worse, someone else, because I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t matter enough.
I know this is the part of the essay where I am supposed to make the hard right turn and bring you back into the fold of assurance. I’m supposed to tell you that no matter the height, or width, or depth of our troubles and anxieties, nothing can separate us from the love of God. That there are communities out there for us to fetter ourselves to, and find our deep purpose there and discover relationships which will keep abandonment in his cage.
The problem with that notion is this – everyone has a key to the monsters cage.
Abandonment is the nuclear option for human relationships and all of us have the capacity to push the button and rend a conflagration of hurt so tremendous that the emotional landscape might never harbor love again.
With that in mind, I suppose, I can only say that I’m going to love you, and that so long it is my power – I’ll show you that you matter. I show you that you mean something to me. I’ll try to remove my armor of vainglory. I won’t drink a poison of loneliness. And I won’t raise the weapons of dereliction on you.
Because you’re worth it.
A Multitude of Infirmities, Part III: The Weapons of Dereliction
Everyone goes away.