At first there is nothing at all. A silence that is persuasive, that leads nowhere and that asks you to follow in its footsteps.
At first there is disbelief. A search for truth that extends to nothing but the very fact you want to un-hear. The search that leads only deeper into the woods, into a translation that cannot be undone.
Anne Dufourmantelle has died.
And then, everything hits you at once. It is so much that you don’t know where to begin. The sobs are for air, for a continuation of what was before, of what you deemed so natural and which you never considered to be a gift.
The gulps of air, once you find a way to let them enter you lungs, solve nothing. They are another excruciating reminder of life. Of a brokenness that should never be healed.
For what if it would heal, what if nothing changes? What if the world doesn’t even notice? What if the sun will rise once more?
I am not supposed to cry. But I do.
I am not supposed to be devastated. But I am.
Rational thought kicks in immediately.
I try to tell myself I hardly knew her. I try to tell myself we are not family. But we are.
My family is very small. It consists of the people I didn’t choose, but who came on my path. Who mean more to me than I’m willing to admit. Who inspire me to be who I am. Who want nothing but the best for me. Who nurture me in my most difficult moments in life. My family is small, and we are tied together by the foundation of our existence.
And when the tears have finally dried up. When I’m exhausted and people around me tell me to sleep. Then I realize that she knew the difference. And perhaps that is all that matters.
There are many millions of people on this planet. Probably there are even too many people for earth to be sustainable in the long run. But we have been told that all life matters. That life is somehow holy. That it is even unethical to think about the trolley problem. But this is not the whole truth. At the very least it is not mine.
Life is not as clear-cut as we would like it to be. To choose between her and the children she tried to save is to think in logical terms that defy reality. We are always already inside of that sea, we always already see the red flags being put on the beach, we always already have made a decision. For one chooses only to save the other, never to die oneself.
I do not cry for her. I do not cry for her family. Although I am sad for them, I feel for them, and I wish I could help them with their loss. But all I can do is to deal with my own. The moment of grief is extremely selfish. There is and never has been any empathy. I do not know what it means to loose a loving parent. I do not know what it means to loose a partner. I cannot imagine what it feels like. Perhaps this is unnatural, but I cannot empathize with any of this.
I cry for the world. For the loss that the world has to face. For the thoughts she will no longer use to inspire others with. For the books that will never be written. For the talks she will never give. For the understanding she will not be able to convey to others. I cry for the loss of a beautiful soul that has so much to offer. And I know she will continue to offer it. Through her work, through her children, through all the people she has touched. Through her place among the stars.
I cry for my world. My world is very small. I hardly ever let anyone in, not because I don’t trust people or don’t like them. But because most of the time there is nothing to trust, nothing to like. The people I respect can be counted on one hand – yes, I am very fortunate. Fortunate to have to count.
I am rich. Yet the hole it leaves when the count goes down even by one, is a hole that cannot be filled. And this is why I cry. Tearlessly. I go through the motions of life, as if these can postpone the inevitable. I eat, I drink, I run, I fuck. And the hole remains there.
Death does not reduce life. Death is never part of life. Death does not reduce the size of my world. The hole and all the debris it leaves behind actually enlarge it. Shows me all the things I had thought I had buried. The feelings of inadequacy. The little voice that tells me I’m fighting a useless fight that will bring about nothing at all. It unearths all the prejudices the world keeps throwing at my feet. The loneliness. The fear of death and that it might be eternal.
Dying is something none of us has in common. We expect it at any moment, and everyone knows. And in many ways I hardly care about it. People die because of small things, when they are young or old. It hurts. But it has never hurt like this. And I am trying to find out why. Because I’m not even supposed to cry.
And then life begins again. The jokes. The random comments. The rants about nothing that seems to matter. And I mute it all. Or, it is muted. This loss mutes everything that happens around me. I only hear my shocked breathing, my longing for it not to be true. I catch myself frantically going through local newspapers, trying to find out if it is really true. But there is no single reason to doubt it. And then the story truly breaks, and her image is everywhere. The world is flooded by messages from people who feel this loss. People who empathize. People who hurt. She is larger than her life could ever be. And I am comforted by the knowledge that the rest of my world feels the same. The three, four people that matter, they are facing the same hole. They show me pictures of her cat. I listen to her voice on the interview the internet threw at me when I was frantically searching. A sign of life. She talks about the value of life. About how we hold on to things that are valuable. I want to scream that it is her. Her pauses between words, as if she is searching for a word. But she is not. And you hear it in those moments of passion, when she simply breathes and talks simultaneously. And then you finally realize it. Again. That she pauses for you. For all of us, who are listening. Because she knew the difference.
She knew the difference between ego and the real. She knew the difference between the mask and passion. She knew the difference between truth and desire. She knew the difference between the impostor and the real deal. Perhaps this is why I loved her, why I asked her to be my PhD advisor, why I trusted her to save me during my doctoral defense from the clutches of narcissism. Because she was the only person who somehow knew that I was not an impostor.
She only needed a few words to understand my plan, my thoughts, my mess of words and inspiration. She knew the difference. She knew I would end up writing about exactly the topic that was so dear to her – the conversion. She knew when to be silent. She knew when to let me work through my own despair.
She knew the loneliness of truth.
And most of all, she knew the difference.
Read her books. Keep her thought alive.