To a dear friend burdened with regret

It made me so happy today, if happy is a word that can be applied to how one feels walking out of the funeral service of a friend, who died too young, a beautiful man, to find you, to see your face after all these years, another beautiful man. How often I have thought of you, remembered you, remembered your kindness to me during the period when my mother was dying and then died, what a total pain in the ass I was. You were amazingly patient, more patient than almost anyone else could have been. I clung to you, I clung to your life, I clung to your living of your life, because yours looked so much better than mine, so much more to be desired, and because whatever mine was I certainly did not know how to occupy it with any grace or ease, as you did yours.

But now it is clear you are sad about your own life. You had no children, never married, said you’d partied through the main years when you were working. You had—in facing all these old school friends I suppose—an air of embarrassment and sadness about your life. You said, when we were joking about hair (we noticed your head had no bald spot) you said, well, you might have a lot of stuff on the outside of your head but not enough stuff on the inside. That particularly was a blade to the heart: you realize, of course you must, that anyone who actually had little going on inside his head, anyone who had no sense of language, metaphor, and wit, would have been incapable of making the joke.

Perhaps you fucked up in life. I have no idea. What constitutes fucking up, really? To the degree I know what fucking up is I know I did plenty of it—in a number of ways that have me dreaming guilty dreams at night (last night, in fact). But I can assert this much, for certain, though I haven’t seen you in nearly four decades—there is nothing more miserable than a miserable old age and our regrets will drown us. Drown us. To get rid of the regret is like ploughing the sea, a seemingly hopeless task. But we have to do it. It’s time to drive back the regrets. I do battle with them every day, and I’ve come to see them as a form of vanity: as if our lives were so important in the scheme of the cosmos that our supposed failures at them actually mattered. We still have bodies to live in, relatively healthy ones, thank God, or thank whatever forces of the universe see to these matters. Because what is left for us now but the joy of others and the joy of the moments we recognize, moments of beauty and truth and life, such as the funeral today, with 150 firefighters in full dress uniform there to honor a man, and with his wife, his daughter, his friends expressing not only their grief but their pride in sharing their lives with that man; those moments of authentic experience in which the world, gorgeous and uncaring, turns no matter what we do, no matter how we might have fucked up, and people continue to love each other, and continue to love us. These years we have left, these days, these hours, are beautiful and they are small miracles. What makes them so pleasurable in a way is that we know so much more than we once did; we can see so much more, we understand so much more. And we accept so much more, fighting off so much less. This acceptance, and this seeing and understanding, fill the moments as they pass, make them larger, make them last longer, if we allow it to happen.

It requires great bravery to forgive oneself: it’s an outlandish act—for who are we, to declare ourselves forgiven? But we must insist on it. I’m trying to do it, I’m trying to make myself stronger physically and more capable of simple joy. I’m trying to let go of years and years of stress and self-punishment and self-neglect. I don’t see anything else that will redeem these last decades that we might be given—that we hope we’re given. (I mean, money would help, if only a little; but that’s apparently not (so far) part of the universe’s plans for me and I’m pretty clear on why. It’s something I chose and I shall have to live with, and just smile at my foolish ways. I wanted to believe in a different kind of world than the one I was living in.)

You are a beautiful human being. You always have been. When we were young, you were full of mischief at times; also incredibly hard working and in my experience always noticeably good at whatever you were doing, often the best. You had from early on a sense of pleasure, physical pleasure, in work and in play and in other realms, a sense of pleasure denied to many of us Catholic boys, your brethren. God didn’t invent such feelings for nothing. I will always think of you as one of the people who contributed, mightily and blessedly, to my survival; for that I am grateful beyond what I can say. I am sure there are others like me. I am certain of it. Love yourself. It’s the hardest thing we’re asked to do, finally, to love ourselves, we know ourselves too well, know our weaknesses and failures to the point of illness. But that’s the request. I am saying all of this more for me—in truth, much more—as I am saying it for you. If I can say it and mean it as I do mean it, for your sake, then how can I deny it for mine? Indeed it occurs to me that seeing you today has given me the opportunity to write these thoughts down so that they will live in me, and I will better remember them. So look—there—you’ve done it again, by being yourself, honestly, authentically yourself, you’ve helped me to save myself. There are some ugly, nasty, hurtful, vile people out in the world. Celebrate how well you’ve done—how spectacularly well—at not being one of them. Enjoy the future, imagine some days at the beach, imagine some days in the mountains. Take deep, deep breaths of the present. The past sits in each of our houses like a large book—we all get our special edition—full of colorful tales; concentrate when looking through it at the beauty of your presence and the power of your endurance.

Know that you are loved, and not for no reason.

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