I remember it as if it were yesterday. It had been a pretty unremarkable day, landing at JFK Airport from London, waiting by my luggage in Arrivals on a blustery evening. I had felt frustrated that, due to the weather, I had been unable to easily access a taxi or uber to my hotel. My phone battery was going right when I needed it the most. There were missed calls from my sister, a few strangely cryptic texts telling me to call her. I dialed her back. I remember no words said, but I remember being winded, suckerpunched. I may have fallen to the ground, but in all honesty I can’t remember. I can’t remember how I even made it to the hotel. All I could visualize was the same news going round my head: Your best friend is dead. Your best friend is dead.
For every other person who died that day, other people had felt like I had. An immeasurable amount of time lying in bed, unable to move, paralyzed by tragedy. Imagining their loved one’s last moments, those last seconds before death, their last thoughts. I had never felt such a longing desire to touch her skin, to remember her familiar smell – a mix of cigarettes and the perfume she had worn since we were teenagers. I wanted to hold her in my arms, like we did as children, or fight her, as we did as adults. I wanted to feel her breath on my skin, her husky voice narrating her mischievous tales. I remembered her so vividly as an 8 year old, in Tartan Uniforms, with angelic blonde hair down to her waist, coming over after school to challenge me at GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. I knew all her stories, all those little parts of her that made up her overarching narrative.
For as much as I could write about her, no words could do her justice. No description could describe her rich complexity. No one person around her could have the full picture anyway. No one ever really does. We each see another through our own eyes, through our own biases, through our own world models. Those close with us are mixed with us in some way, through their effect on our consciousness. We blend little parts of our intellect, our personalities, and our hopes, dreams and fears. Sometimes this happens with an individual very quickly, and, well, sometimes it never happens at all. Somehow both routes are beautiful. And yet I had loved my friend for 16 years.
The box of unthinkable truths
I think of her life with a nostalgia for the future. A deep longing for a future where science had advanced to such a degree where it could have prevented her death. It was probably only ever a decade or two away. I consider the vantage point of future generations looking back, hearing tales and stories of animals. Animals who marched to their deaths, whilst others turned a blind eye. Hoards and hoards of us, creating offspring, consuming, capitalizing and then turning our heads whilst our comrades are forced to walk off a cliff.
There’s an irony when we joke of the mythical stupidity of lemmings, as if we are somehow better. You would think we would find it less shocking when loved ones die considering our ignorance. Oh, she died! Well, I had no idea what was going on in her body anyway. Her cells lay unregulated, her biological system unsupervised, within a healthcare system misaligned to her personal interest for survival. Oh, she died? It’s not very shocking at all, considering the circumstances, considering the current state of affairs. If I had cared for her I would have measured every biomarker, every metric, furthered every science to understand her fully, to a point where I could have let her be so far away and known that she was healthy. Oh, she died? We shouldn’t be so shocked. We know nothing about our loved ones. For every day they live biologically unregulated and unsupervised, we should be glad for their persistent survival. But for each of those days, we should condemn ourselves for our pathetic inaction to protect. We maintain and service our cars more than we do our bodies. We live in hopeful passivity that our loved ones will be well, day to day. We have no idea when our loved ones will die. And when they do, we will act shocked – surprised even. We will shout out in our nightmares, how could you!!, not knowing that the exclamation has always only ever been directed at ourselves.
Most of us have felt that moment. That moment where we would trade everything, everything we had ever purchased, every pathetic item we had so fallibly cherished, every dollar spent on all the nonsensical bric-a-brac we surround ourselves with, to just bring them back. Every damn thing. And if we are lucky enough to live longer than most then we will go through this process numerous times. Yet we never rewire our thinking. We carry on distracting ourselves to mask the pain. Rational creatures would invest this money into biological research, wishing that nobody would ever experience what we just had. It would be our biggest priority as a species. We would want to know how to prevent these catastrophes, these diseases, these illnesses, the aging and degeneration that plagues us all. We would learn from our mistakes.
And yet we don’t.
So I asked myself recently, what is love? I loved my friend. What does that even mean? With her gone, my love for her still remains. We all love former humans who transform into emotional ghosts inside us. But when we think of love, we think of dating and marriage, and hearts, bouquets and roses. We think of fluffy love. We don’t think of the kind of love that haunts you, the feeling of responsibility, the pressure-cooker of guilt. I see it sometimes in the eyes of parents with their children, this overriding feeling that takes over them. It’s a responsibility, a fear of having this thing which they love so much, over and above themselves. I think unconsciously parents are continuously being reminded of death. They are reminded by their own deaths as they watch their children grow, a kind of mirror reflecting their own aging. And they are made aware of the future death of their children, something which they long to never see. But if those thoughts ever rise up to a conscious awareness, they get locked away into a box of unthinkables. The box of unthinkable truths.
The greatest fail point of the human race
There are these cold, hard, horrible truths. These truths are the kinds that we all try to imagine can’t possibly exist. We will avoid them at every cost. We will blind and distract ourselves in any possible manner. And yet our loved ones die. Our children will die. We wrap them in blankets and promise to care for them, to do whatever it takes to make sure they are safe, without realizing the biggest killer is inside them, within their own skin. Until we know the ground truths of our loved ones’ biological make-up, and are able to monitor and maintain them, creating a genuinely preventative attitude towards healthcare, we are simply living in blind ignorance and hopeful passivity. Our great-grandchildren will look back at us and think we must have cared so very little for the ones we love. 150,000 people die on this Earth every day.
I contributed towards the death of my friend with my own inaction. And I pay the price when I dream of her every day. I dream of her potential, the children she never had, the jobs she never accepted. I dream of the diary entries she never wrote, of all the stories I will never get to hear about. I would trade everything I own, every holiday I could ever take, every annual bonus, every bit of social recognition I could possibly aspire to, in order to bring her back. But I can’t. I don’t have the option.
But we can do something. We can work towards preventing this happening to other people. Even a small advancement in scientific discoveries has the ability to save future lives. None of us want our loved ones to suffer. And yet when they do, most of us have not acted in any way to stop it. If you love only one person on this earth, do something to advance science. Start with a simple web search for researchers or start-ups researching ‘x’, and learn about the current paradigm. We must learn from the mistake of death. We must learn from the loss of our friends and families. Our failure to act represents one of the greatest fail points of the human race.
Read Newest From Column Riva-Melissa Tez: Thinking about Love