I’ve got nothing.
I’ve mentioned my friend Shelly here and there in this column: she’s the one who scooted off to Denmark, leaving me with a neighborhood stray cat (Scuppers!) who now rules my apartment and refuses to acknowledge his low-class beginnings. She’s the one who used to write for The Gabber, and she’s the sort of friend everyone wants—the kind who loves you with neither expectation nor requirement.
Shelly is, in many ways, an alternate reality version of myself. We both write for a living, we both have a marked affinity for mediocre Mexican beer, we both procrastinate about writing (usually while drinking aforementioned mediocre Mexican beer), and we both have hair that triples in size at the first droplet of moisture in the air, but that’s where our similarities end.
While I maintain that sharks suffer from bad PR, Shelly screams at the very glimpse of a manatee. When she wrote her column, Distractions, people loved it, but The Gabber readers won’t nominate me for Miss Congeniality anytime soon. Shelly likes people—she could find the good in a serial killer—and they tend to like her in return. I do not exactly espouse the Dale Carnegie school of personality. Shelly is friendly, effusive, and tactful. I am standoffish, abrasive, and blunt.
Despite our differences, we’ve forged a lovely friendship over the past seven years. She is a loyal, true, and faithful friend, but more than that, she possesses one of the few good souls who walk the earth, and her goodness inspires me. If this sounds gushy and too good to be true, well, ask anyone who knows Shelly and they’ll tell you yes, she really is that person. She has her faults, of course, but all in all, the earth is a better place for her being here.
Her little brother died last week. And I’ve got nothing. I adore Shelly, her father, and her family, but I feel so empty and powerless right now.
Of course, I’m sad for her, but what can I say? As an only child I cannot begin to imagine the bond between brother and sister, much less the horror of my little brother dying unexpectedly. My heart breaks for her father, but I have no children and do not possess maternal instincts; how can I possibly offer him anything that will ease the pain of burying his son?
Certainly, I have lost people I love. I know that pain; I recognize that while sometimes death may be a blessing for the deceased, it sucks for the rest of us. I understand, too, that the flowers and prayers—despite the sender’s intentions—mean painfully little when held up against the closets of clothes destined for Goodwill and the financial matters that must get settled. All the prayers to all the gods of the world will not return Shelly’s brother to her; no funeral flower arrangements will, ten years from now, help her remember his new baby smell when their mom brought him home from the hospital.
This week one of the best people I know will bury her brother and try to come to grips to the world without him, and I can do nothing to help her. This makes me feel slightly ill, as though I have some lingering malaise I can neither define nor defeat. I offer her my car while she’s staying stateside; I attend the funeral. Every gesture seems trite. I call her to see what else I can do. There is, expectedly, not a thing. Unless, of course, I can bring back her brother, and that one thing—the thing I cannot do—is all she really wants.
I know my sadness is nothing compared to that of hers and her family. Their grief is concrete; they pine for a living, breathing wonderful young man whom they loved and who loved them.
My keening is more abstract; I am confused by the way the Universe works, if not surprised by it. If people must suffer so unfair a pain, how can we still expect to find the people Anne Frank claimed were “basically good at heart?” How much can we run a person through before they chuck it all back and decide that a good life and a pure soul gets them nothing better than it does the jerk down the street who beats his wife and kicks his kid’s pet beagle?
I wonder, though, if maybe that’s the key for people like Shelly: knowing that their lives are their only rewards and remaining the people they are anyway. Perhaps she, like Buddha, believes “the only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”
Her brother’s untimely death will not embitter Shelly. It will not make her a better person; it will not make her a worse one. Her character was formed, as was yours and mine and the jerk down the street, so long ago, and one tragedy—or many—will not change our natures. It is, as the seas and the sun, immutable.
I have nothing for Shelly, except this: In your life, I wish everything you have given your friends, one hundred fold. We mourn for your loss, and by knowing and loving you, we lose it, too.
For the rest of us?
I wish us all many Shellys.