Monday, August 05, 2013

The stars are going out

“Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

That is the closing line of a novelty sci-fi story, Arthur C Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God.

So it goes in life as well: if you have the good fortune to survive, there will be those around who you do not. 

Sometimes, the news comes as a secondhand surprise: someone reports that someone you lost touch with was in a car accident isn't it dreadful? And you try to recall a face to associate with the name, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. You say something suitable and curse yourself for insincerity.

Sometimes, however, it's the fixed stars: those that were always in your night sky. 

Those of us bound to each other because we shared pain in another, younger world; those who we called to say “I'm sorry to call you at this hour, but you wouldn't want me to wait. My mother died this morning”. And we cry together just like when we were teenagers.

A long time ago, we fell out because you thought I was making a mistaken marriage. Things worked out, and we awkwardly repaired our friendship. 

Twenty years on, when I thought my wife of 20 years might die, it was you I called to weep and rage and weep, curled up on the kitchen floor, and you listened. With the whole of the globe between us, it felt like you held my hand, wrapped your arms around my shoulders, kissed my forehead, promised me she wouldn't die tonight. You also reminded me, sharply, that I had responsibilities: I must sleep, I must offer my strength to the boys, I must work, and I had to get off the floor and pick up my burdens, as we all must.

Damn it, if you're dying why didn't you tell me? Don't you know how much I love you?


So. I plucked up my courage and asked outright.

"No, I said 'pretty soon I'll be deaf."

You see, when two people on a phone call have damaged hearing, there's lots of scope for missed connections.

I could have removed this post, except: if you love people, they deserve to know it. You don't know where your nemesis lies or when you'll next get the chance to say so.

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