Thursday, August 23, 2012


when my cousin jake died there was nothing i could do.

jake was an exemplary young man of interesting talents and diverse pursuits. he chopped wood. he made movies. he wore his hair long and his mouth in a smile. he adored his nephews. he was formerly a talented wrestler. he could draw and sing and dance. all this to say: i didn't actually know jake. he was younger than i by a few years, but not many, and our paths crossed less frequently than with those of some other cousins. i only came to know him through his passing. and when someone is so young and full of the about-to-happen, death is not just a tragedy; it is a full-on crime.

i mention all of this because there was nothing i could do. i had no stake in the guy's life other than being a blood relative who knew him vaguely and genuinely liked him. we hadn't talked much. and i think the last time i had seen him had been with his hand in a canoe full of icewater and kegs, participating in a willpower test with my brother. i don't know who took his hand out first, but jake was the first to be taken from all of us, and for no goddam reason. jake died of heart failure two decembers ago.

when there's nothing i can do, i resort to the normal process of making something for myself to do. my brother and i fuelled up his truck, installed the snow tires at 2 in the morning in knee-deep snow at minus 20, slept for three hours, and started driving south. what the hell were we going to do? help out? with what? we got to maryland just in time for the wake, changed in the cab in the parking lot, and walked in to cry.

crying was something i could do.

i realized at some point that although i could do nothing to console a family who'd had a son stolen from them, i could feel. i could stand there, in the funeral home, and weep like a man obliterated. i could stand, in honour (and lack of seating for the honouring of such a great man), soaking the lapels of my suit. i could rage at the injustice of the death of a young man so full of possibility. i could see his simple, perfect coffin, remember the grandfather who started our whole family and seeing him in just such a coffin, and i could drip these memories hot and salty down my cheeks. i could see my family ruined. we were undone. and i felt it, bleeding from somewhere very red and very deep.

i do not believe that i did anything helpful by feeling all of this. i merely felt, and i believe this to be a valid, important thing. somewhere on the spectrum of feeling, i am on the further side of rather. i feel rather a lot. maybe it's an artistic thing. maybe i just can't help myself. i temper this tendency, daily, with a good dunk in reality, and hear my afterthoughts and should've-saids hissing away in steam clouds. regardless, i still feel quite a lot, and i think the world needs people who do this. we all, of course, need people to feel less and do more or feel lots and do lots and think and dream and all that other great stuff. but this feeling must not be let to waste. it must not be shut off. i may not drown in it either. it is important, and it must be done.

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