Paradox of Being Alive

3 people I know died yesterday. Unrelated to each other. While I didn’t technically “know” them, each played an interesting part of my life.

The first was actress Katherine Helmond. I never met her. Being a child raised by a television instead of my father, she was one of many parental figures in my life via the other side of the screen. I knew her from “Who’s the Boss” as most of us did, but I grew to love her on the brilliantly funny “Soap” as Jessica Tate. A groundbreaking and hilarious show that I caught on reruns on Comedy Central. There was a gentle kindness to her performance that can’t be easily faked. The entire show was phenomenal, but out of a large, talented, madcap cast, she always stood out to me. She was 89.

The second person who died was someone I wasn’t too fond of. It was a friend of a friend situation. It’s bad form to speak ill of the departed, but I truly don’t have anything nice to say about this person. I only met him once and it was an excruciating experience. His behaviour resulted in me being embarrassed in public for the first time in my life. I didn’t know him and didn’t want to get to know him. I’m sure he touched a lot of people’s lives and will be sorely missed by family and friends, but my one interaction with him was one of the worst I’ve ever had with another person. He was 29.

The third who died was a friend of mine I’d known for 15 years. He was another one I’d only met once in person, but we got along pretty well. Well enough to continue a long-distance friendship via Facebook (and initially MySpace, before that went extinct). I, unfortunately, didn’t know him very well, either. Outside of mutual meme-sharing via Facebook Messenger and him sending me the worst dad jokes you can imagine, there wasn’t much to our relationship. He was a pretty great guy from what I could tell, though a bit troubled. But who among us isn’t? He was 38.

3 different people. Unrelated to each other, except for my passing connections to each of them. One died in her old age. One died rather young. The third died at the same age I am. I’m 38 as I write this, soon to be 39 in a week’s time. I will be older than he will ever live to be in a week’s time.

It’s a sad fact that in my short life, I’ve already outlived so many people. I’ve lost family to the ravages of time. I’ve lost childhood friends to various accidents, overdoses, and suicides. Just 2 weeks ago, another person I’ve known for a decade passed away. Each life snuffed out seemingly far too soon. Life is a strange and bewildering thing. It is too long and dull as it is at the same time too short and momentous. We have so much time to do all the things we want to do and somehow not enough to do all the things we want to do. It’s the paradox of being alive.

When I was a kid, I thought that turning 30 was far away. It was a milestone so distantly out of reach it didn’t seem real. 30 was old. 30 was when I’d stop having fun and start feeling old. Like an adult. Then 30 hit and nothing really changed. 40 then became the far-off landmark of “old age.” Now 40’s just around the corner and still, nothing really has changed. No revelation. No discovery. No “oh shit, I’m old” moment. I feel essentially the same I as I did when I was younger. The only changes have been a few wrinkles, a few grey hairs, choosing to stay in more often instead of going out, and a growing graveyard where my friends and family used to be.

I used to think with age came wisdom. A sudden realization that suddenly transforms you from child to adult. An epiphany. But none comes. You just keep on going on, until the one day you don’t. The older you get, the more of the people you care about you will lose. No afterlife. No second chances. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200.

We accept this cruel fact and live on with regrets. We regret not quitting a job that treated us like replaceable drones. We regret not asking that certain someone out on a date. We regret not calling up an old friend who’s voice we haven’t heard in years. We regret not apologizing to a loved one for sins both real and imagined. And every time someone we know dies, we regret something about our interactions with them.

I regret never getting to meet Katherine Helmond and telling her how much her performance meant to me growing up.

I regret the unkind things I’ve said about the 29-year-old friend of a friend. I never bothered to look past a singular experience and get to know him.

I regret not being closer with my 38-year-old friend. We only hung out once in person and that was desperately not enough.

3 people I know died yesterday. It has me thinking about my own mortality. My own regrets. Decisions both good and bad. What I can do (if anything) to make more good ones and what I can do (if anything) to repair the bad ones. But that’s the tricky part of life. That’s the shitty part of life. That’s the beautiful part of life. The unknown. It’s the unknown that truly drives us. That gives each day the opportunity to be either special or tragic. And it’s that unknown we focus on when we lose people and as we think about our own end.