Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Knowledge and Comfort

Every life is a book.  Only the finished ones have a back cover.

* * *

My phone rang while I was watching the Bruins beat the Rangers the other night, and my immediate thought was: it’s my brother Gary calling from a bar in Cleveland where he’s watching the game and cheering them on.  It wasn’t, of course.  Gary’s been gone for two and a half years.  But for a good three seconds, until I looked to see who was calling, he was right there.  And I knew exactly what he was going to say.

And that response is how we all deceive ourselves about the dead.

Since every life is a book, and the finished ones have a back cover, then every possible response we can have to the author of that book is contained within its pages.  We say, “She would have loved that.”  We say, “He would have called me the second he heard about that.”  We say, “I know exactly what she would have said.”

It’s a lie.  It’s a comforting lie, but it’s still a lie.  And the lie, and the comfort, are contained in the same word: “know.” 

We don’t know.  In a book with no back cover, the writer is still creating, and the story could become anything.  We fill the pages of our own book, and watch the pages of our friends’ books, and we’re engaged, not because we know what’s going to happen next, but because we don’t.

I only know what my brother Gary was going to say about the Bruins because I remember what he said during other calls.  Which means that what I think I know is an echo, not a source.   That’s the comfort: Gary has become finite.  In physics terms, his probability wave has collapsed, and any chance of him acting outside the realm of possibility has vanished.  Everything is an equation now.  If the Bruins win, Gary calls and says X.  If the Red Sox lose, Gary calls and says Y.

And that’s the lie.  Because if Gary was alive, there would be no equal sign.  X and Y would represent probability, not reality. The possibility of Gary would be infinite, until he created his own reality.  Until he wrote something on a blank page that could be anything.  And yes, it might have been what I was expecting him to write.  But I know—and this is the knowledge that is not a comfort—I know that it would not be, and could never be, exactly what I was expecting.

The one thing all the dead take with them when they leave is the ability to surprise us.

In a book with a back cover, there are no surprises.  Just echoes.  No potential.  Just history. 

I think I know what Gary would have said about the Bruins winning.  I don’t.  He would have said something I can’t even imagine.  That’s what made him unique.  That’s what made him Gary.

I think I know what my friend Meir would have said about Silver Linings Playbook.  I don’t.  He would have said something I can’t even imagine.  That’s what made him unique.  That’s what made him Meir.

The loss of any one of us cheapens reality, because there is one less set of eyes to perceive it, and one less mind to translate that vision for the rest of us.

I think I know what my friend Michal would say about the Avengers movie.  Or what my father would say about the play I’m writing now.  Or what my mother would say about my niece’s boyfriend.  It’s a lie.  I don’t know anything.  But I say I do—I have to say I do—or the grief would be unbearable.

* * *

All this is written in my book.  And one day that book will have a back cover.


elijah said...

really beautifully said matthew, thank you.

rainbowjenni said...

I would like an autographed copy please.

Anonymous said...

may there be many more pages and chapters before your book has a back cover... beautiful, as always.

THE BEARS said...

Wow dude. That was great.

Lisa Benner said...

Adore you