Death In Mid-Sentence

My Father's Folders

Few days ago a Russian writer and a blogger passed away. One minute he was discussing something pedestrian, like finding chemicals to develop photo-film, and the next minute he was found dead on his own porch. By some cruel twist of fate his last words weren’t something profound, something to be passed  around as quotes for generations, but something really insignificant like the location of the nearest photo supply. His last post is still gathering comments, where in the beginning people refused to believe the rumors about his death and continued to talk photography. He was popular but not hugely so during his lifetime, thousands of people read his blog and judging from the tearful comments many felt a connection with him. Strangely, so did I. Strangely, because his blog wasn’t really about anything, just his life and observations, mostly short blurbs about being a writer, living in a remote Russian village where he moved few years ago, few photographs, infrequent stories. Nevertheless, maybe for the first time, I found myself tearing up about a person I’ve never met. 46 years old, small child, so much more left unsaid and unwritten.

To me a sudden death like this is always tragic; something unfinished about a person dying in the middle of a conversation, or coaching a baseball game like one of my co-workers, or in a car accident, or on the way to work like my father. No time to say good byes, to reflect on one’s life, to tell someone your deepest secrets before you go. One minute you have a purpose in life, and the next you are neatly packed in a body-bag with a ID tag on your big toe.

What’s left of us when we are gone? People used to leave diaries, neat stacks of letters, photo albums, trinkets and tchotchkes, old wedding gowns, family jewelry and crystal. With every new generation the amount of physical memories shrinks; no one has time or room or desire to move the old junk around, so it gets sorted out multiple times until it fits in a small shoe box somewhere in the back of a cabinet. I still remember the day we were ripping up old photos so we can get our luggage under the weight limit.

My father left two folders of his writings and newspaper clippings, a photo album, a stethoscope and a blood pressure monitor. Even less will be left when I go. This site will disappear when I stop paying for hosting, in a year this space will be filled with links to erectile dysfunction medicine sites. There is no written correspondence and only few photos where I was coaxed into the frame, and even those are not in print form. Nothing material. No grieving widow, no beautiful woman shedding a tear and thinking “he was so good in bed”. No article in the Wikipedia, no chemical element, no star, no book, no restaurant chain. My whole life can fit on a thumb-drive. At least my kid won’t have to haul around a dusty trunk of my moldy possessions.

So what’s the choice here – to drop everything and discover a chemical element, name a star, write myself into the Wikipedia? Suddenly become amazing in bed? Or just continue filling up the thumb-drive of my life with insignificant drivel? Every time someone dies, people project the death upon themselves and sometimes make changes – starŅ‚ buckling up, or eating better, quit smoking, spend more time with kids, learn something new, have more sex, travel – there are many things we realize we could be doing better or different or not at all.

It’s just unfortunate that it takes one’s death to reevaluate one’s life.