Originally I scheduled myself today to write a post on the decisions I’d made while building this website, but an alumni of one of places I worked at passed away in a tragic bike crash in SF. It was also yesterday that I learned why I should use the word “crash” instead of “accident”.
I didn’t work with her, she was after my time. But I would have loved her if I did, like many of my ex-colleagues. I wonder if grief by proxy is a thing, because I deeply feel the loss that my friends and ex-colleagues are feeling. Even if she was completely unrelated to me, I mourn at the loss of potential and love from a very promising, well-loved thirty year old.
I am yet again reminded how fragile, random and cruel life can be.
(Note: people in SF are fighting for protected bike lanes, over here in Singapore we don’t even have reserved bike lanes with very rare exceptions, it is disturbing how far we have to go. It is also poignant to be that they formed a human barrier between the bike lane and cars in the aftermath, something we can’t do in Singapore without being arrested for illegal public assembly. These are to me not just mere differences in law or inconveniences, but the very way we perceive what it means to be human, express ourselves as fellow human beings, and what by extension, what it means to design a liveable, humane city.)
Yesterday, I did something for very important people to me that I had put off for almost a year. I had put it off because I am always feeling tired, and it takes considerable energy to put something in motion, especially if it involves the schedule of other people. But I couldn’t put it off any longer, with the awareness that time is not on my side. It was weighing on me for a long time, and I am annoyed at myself for the procrastination. But afterwards I was so glad I did it. Sometimes when we cannot say the words to tell people we care and that we have never forgotten them no matter how far away we have drifted, we can only accomplish this expression by actions.
I spent a lot of my life working hard to prove myself and being hung up on things that didn’t matter. Before I moved to SF I was aware of the fact that anything could happen to my loved ones while I was gone, but I rationalised it away. Sometimes scenarios sound acceptable when imagined, but we still get unhinged by the full force of their magnitude when they truly happen.
Everything changed when my grandmother passed away. I had to stand in the shadows of mortality to know what it truly felt like. That time the grief I felt wasn’t for the loss of the person, but the regret of not having been done more for them. Perhaps the grief was for the loss of my self, the part of me that I had abandoned in favour of “a brighter future”.
I don’t regret moving away, I regret not doing more while I could. I regret not being present during the rare times I was back. I was permanently scarred by the sudden phone call from home back then, and till today I get really frightened when people call me (because most of the time they reach me via text).
Very often we measure life spans by life expectancy, whether for ourselves or for other people. There is always next week, next month, next year, next arbitrary milestone. But as Tim Urban illustrates, even if we live till our life-expectancies, we don’t actually have that much time left:
Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years…It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.Wait but why: The Tail End
I am haunted by thinking of the tail end everyday. It informs a lot of my decision making, which is why my life choices may seem unconventional. I am not sure if I’ll have later, the only certainty I have is now.
So before I embark on overseas travel I make sure to visit everyone I care about, from the time to time I text people to let them know I care, yet also accepting that some people want to be let go of, and there’s also some I should let go. When time is acutely perceived as limited there is just no incentive to put up with appearances or bother with extraneous matters anymore.
I try not to put off expressions of affection or gifts. If it was my life getting cut short I would like people to know that I cared. I think in this random, cruel universe, perhaps the only redeeming quality is the irrational, deep, wide, love we can have for another.
Sometime ago someone tweeted to me after reading a post. I am not sure why, but she read more into it than I was aware of myself writing. I found myself replying to her that all I am seeking to do now is to grow the capacity to contain and bear those moments of loss that will inevitably come. I wasn’t conscious of this.
But truly, all I am doing now: studying, contemplating, exercising, travelling, compensating, loving – everything I actively do – is so that I hope I will be better equipped to deal with grief.
Grief, doesn’t only come from the loss of what you love, but it also comes from the loss of our selves: of what we could have done, what we shouldn’t have missed, how we could have lived, and how we could have loved.
I know I will be broken anyway, no amount of preparation will equip us to deal with loss, but at the very least I know I would have tried my best to be spared the grief of being unaware and unprepared, that loss can happen any moment.