I had email from an acquaintance earlier today. He's a person I don't so much work with, as in parallel to for the most part. Since we're in different physical locations and do very different tasks (actually I don't do very much of anything), we can go for weeks or in this case, months, without seeing one another or having reason to interact at all.
Having received a brief, two-line, note from him, I responded with the type of remark for which I am, sadly, well-known in certain circles and learned that he is currently hospitalized, requiring surgery that he may not survive. I don't really have a clever quip for that situation. The mail-order course in counterpoint and snarky repartee I'm enrolled in hasn't gotten to that yet, and I fear it may not ever.
As I said, this is someone with whom I have, at best, infrequent contact. I think the term 'casual stranger' best describes this arrangement and we all have them. There are people in our lives we see, more than know, that if we were to encounter them at a rail stop in Beijing, we'd talk for hours as if we were the oldest of friends, but in the familiar surroundings of a shared and common environment they are part of the scenery (or we are, I guess, depending on the perspective and who's having it).
As I said, I wasn't able to offer a pithy observation that would bring a grin, or even a grimace, and offered one of those pious platitudes about hoping 'things turn out for the best' yada, yada which precipitated a remarkably eloquent and sadly sincere very long note in return that suggested he's been in a bad way for quite some time and has little hope left. He has turned his concerns and energies to how he leaves the planet and I realized I have little to offer someone whose focus is there. Except....It doesn't and shouldn't matter how you die.
It should matter not only HOW you lived, but that you lived at all. Each of us is the sum total of experiences and encounters with everyone we've ever known. The last original left, so to speak, is original sin (you can take the boy out of Holy Mother Church, but you can't take the Church out of the boy, I guess). Each of us, by design or accident, carries a piece of everyone else's experiences and beliefs which should be why death, especially an untimely one (though, to be honest, I'm not sure what a 'timely' death is), is a loss to all of us in the community of humanity. All I can offer is the solace, if that's what it is, of Leonard Cohens' Dress Rehearsal Rag:
Why don't you join the Rosicrucians?
They can give you back your hope.
You can find your love with diagrams
On a plain brown envelope."