It was a couple of years ago when I first felt the emotional impact of death. A friend of many years was in the last stages of cancer, and I received the news in the afternoon. Janet was dead. Died peacefully with people she loved.
I immediately felt something hit me. Intellectually I knew her death was coming, but the emotional reaction was huge and I hadn’t expected that. When I was a professional Buddhist I meditated on death all the time. Before that as a binge drinking depressive I thought about death all the time. I was supposed to be chill with impermanence. But no, moment by moment I felt myself slipping into a strange absence of sensation, a numbness that crept up on me like rising flood waters.
I was alone at home and couldn’t bear it. Going out the door I walked down the street as slowly as I have ever walked. Aimless. There was no desire to go anywhere. I shuffled along like an old man and felt lost, a tiny bobbing head in an indifferent universe.
My friend since Art College, she had battled poor health all her life, and never seemed sorry for herself. She survived a lung transplant and was getting her life going again when the cancer diagnosis came. And now she was dead. I’d told my sister about all this and she expressed it pretty well: “What was the point of all that?”
What’s the point of fighting life if you’re going to get cut down? What’s the point of living if we die? I’d considered the questions intellectually but now I was feeling them emotionally. I came to a small park on the street and asked the moon in the light blue sky “What’s the point?”. After a while I shuffled home, just feeling empty and numb.
When I came home my partner Kerry was there. I told her Janet was dead and then hugged her and mumbled something. She got the gist of it and just held me. After a while I had a cry and then just held Kerry and felt like I’d been kicked in the guts. I closed my eyes and breathed, breathed and …
… somewhere in all that the answer came. The answer to “What’s the point?” isn’t in words, it’s in the nonverbal world of feeling and emotion. Words are sometimes inadequate, and the words “Janet’s dead” couldn’t convey the tragedy of never seeing my vibrant friend again, couldn’t honour her properly. A cry and a cuddle came closer than any profundity ever could.
“What’s the point?” There is an answer, just not in words.