Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mortality is a funny thing

As I mentioned the other day, my high school reunion was this past weekend. I did not go, but not because of any misdirected bitterness towards my old school or classmates. I supported the event from afar by placing an ad in the program and even ordered a t-shirt. I logged on to Facebook Monday morning to see if anyone had posted any pictures or made comments about how much fun they had...okay, I was trolling to see if anybody had mentioned how they'd LOL'd and LOL'd at my hilarious ad. That's when I came across my old friend Brent's status:
"Rest in peace Douglas Adams; my heart goes out to you and yours."

Shit. I did not need to see that.
Brent and I didn't go to high school together, but were classmates in a different school district, at Eau Claire Middle School. Douglas (or just Doug, as I knew him) was somebody we went to school with there and is not the author of the "Hitchhiker's Guide..." books. Eau Claire is a tiny farming village in Michigan (less than 700 people live there). My folks thought my sister and I would benefit from the comparitively bucolic environment and would get better educations there but I found the place riddled with shallow, close-minded and mean-spirited people and I hated it there. After four years of misery (and terrible report cards), I felt like Brer Rabbitt when my parents announced that they were punishing us by sending us back to the troubled, blighted, urban hellscape of the Benton Harbor public school system (Oh no...please...not that...please). I just never really fit in at Eau Claire. In addition to getting lousy grades, I was frequently bullied and ridiculed and spent time at an after-school babysitter's that was truly a house of horrors (a story for another time). Doug was one of a pretty small handful of people I got along with though. Not exactly friends, I didn't bother to keep in touch with him after I left Eau Claire following the completion of 7th grade, but I remember him as always being pretty cool. We played football together, played baseball against each other and both played drums in middle school marching band. I liked him because he was a nice kid who didn't go out of his way to be nasty to me. That qualifies. Still, I literally haven't thought about the guy in decades.
When you think of all the connections you make throughout your life, something like that is tenuous at best. So I don't know why I went over to Doug's Facebook page after seeing Brent's note, but I did. There I found a picture of Doug as an adult, that I never would have guessed was him, and a sunset over Lake Michigan. I learned that he had apparently stayed in the area and had worked at various watering holes as an affable bartender. Yeah, I can see that. His son Reid, whom I never met, of course, made the announcement in the form of a post on his dad's page, that his dad had died, succumbing to cancer after a four year battle.
"Huh", I thought. "So that's how that works." Death and how it interacts with social media is something I've wondered about absently from time to time. Presuming Doug was the only one who could access the edit functions for his page, I guess that means that anybody who visits there from now on will see that he "lives" in Eau Claire, he went to Western Michigan University and he liked "Pulp Fiction", "Squidbillies" and the Detroit Tigers (that one, I already knew). Along with a lot of heartfelt farewell wishes that he never saw, that stuff will be there forever, or at least as long as Facebook exists and how technology re-defines concepts like "forever". On Twitter, announcements and status updates get pushed further and further down the timeline and within minutes, they're buried beneath a never-ending onslaught of new news. Whatever is on Facebook just kind of floats out there like a balloon. It's not carved in stone, but it is on the internet. Who wants to place bets on which is more likely to still be around in a million years?  
As I get older, it's less and less shocking that people my age are dying. Heck, classmates of mine have been dying since I was a teenager. And I know that some people who didn't attend last week's reunion missed it because they're not around any more. Nobody ever says so, but that's part of the reason for having reunions.
I'm not exactly sad that Doug Adams, a kid who really didn't bother me when we went to school together a long, long time ago, died, but it has shaken me for some reason. I mean, I certainly have sympathy for him and his family and friends (it looks like he had lots of friends, and that's nice) but I'm not really sad about it. More like bothered. It bothers me. Part of it could be that people my age shouldn't be dying of cancer, but only because of the fact that anybody of any age is still dying of cancer is bullshit (hey pharmaceutical industry, fuck you and your toxin-riddled vanity "medicines", you greedy, non-disease-curing-since-polio assholes). Part of it is the selfish side of me wondering what platitudes that I'll never get to read will get posted to my Facebook wall. Still another part of it is feeling a little guilty about not devoting time to contemplating The Greater Meaning Of It All simply because I'm not sure There Is One.
Death to me is just kind of an rbitrary (although inevitable) thing that happens, often stupid and usually kind of mean. It's a certainty, but none of the stuff attached to it is. The marathon runner who dies of a heart attack. People getting shot while watching a movie or worshipping their faith. All the innocent kids who die for no good reason whatsoever. All the insufferable bastards who live well into their 90s, also for no good reason whatsoever. Doug, the decent kid who grew up to be a friendly bartender as opposed to at least five kids I could name from that tiny school who deserved to be run over by a grain harvester (there's no way Tim Faher grew up to be anything but an utterly irredeemable piece of shit). Nothing induces anxiety like death and yet the inevitability of it renders worrying about it pointless.
Mortality is a funny thing.

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