Some years just leave you reeling. Sometimes it's the news and current events of a particular year that upend the way we see things — I think, for example, of the world-shaking uproar and clamor of 1968, or the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Those years were deep shocks for nearly everyone who lived through them. But there are also the years when, no matter if the outside world's news is good or bad, your own little corner of the universe jumps up and smacks you hard. That was my 2011.
For me, the past year was a dismal one, bookended by two murders. Twelve months ago this week, former CL photographer Chris Radok was stabbed to death in his home by a burglar he had caught in the act. Like all of Chris' friends and acquaintances, I was stunned. Part of me refused to accept that the killing had really happened. Here was a guy, a creative guy, a flesh-and-blood somebody who lifted a lot of people's spirits with his wicked sense of humor; a guy I'd worked with, developing ideas for CL cover shots; someone alive, physically active, in this world and walking around, dammit. And then gone, just like that.
Some time ago, a good friend tapped his head and told me he was "feeling pretty good in here," but that "it's the damned physicality of life that's getting to me." In a way, I know what he meant. At times, I still have Radok's presence, his attitudes, quirks, smiles and what-have-you in my head — just as I still think about my two best friends from high school, both now gone, as if they were still around, right here.
As much as I may tell myself that, in the end, we are our souls and our bodies are mere vessels, that deep-rooted "damned physicality of life" draws me back to the loss of people I miss. Now and then I'll suddenly "see" one of them — on the sidewalk, in a store — and for a millisecond my heart lights up, before Mr. Brain tells me that it can't be who I think it is, since the person I thought I saw is, well, dead. Not here anymore. As the song goes, "Gone, gone, nothing's gonna bring him back." I just wish I'd quit seeing them.
Fairly recently, a friend I've known a long time, someone with whom I've shared many discussions about music, politics, movies and sports ... this is hard to even write ... was arrested and is in jail, charged with murder. I can't imagine this person killing anyone, but then, that's how most people feel when a friend is accused of something so terrible. I have no idea whether or not he did it, but that's not the point. The point is that someone else I knew, although not well, is now gone; and someone whose friendship I value is in the deepest kind of trouble I can imagine.
Before I go any farther, let me be clear that I know many others have it much worse than I. You can't do volunteer work with the poor and homeless and think otherwise. I also realize that others have even worse tragedies to contend with. My next question, in fact, goes for them, too: How do we best handle — how do we take in hand and sort out — the tragedies that affect our friends, loved ones, and ourselves?
When my friends and I were young, I expected that as we aged, our built-up store of experience, and the wisdom that I kept hearing would come with age, would make it easier to deal with life's rough spots and horrors. I assumed we'd be awash in the poise we'd have developed by this stage of life, and we'd easily put things in perspective. We would dip into our bag of insights, pass them around, and after a decent amount of time, we'd carry on, secure in the knowledge that since we'd "seen it all," we had enough related understanding to handle whatever tragedies came along. Man, is that ever not the way it worked out.
So, what to do when the potential horrors of "real life" actually happen and can't be kept at bay by humor, work, prayer, drink or drugs? The only answer I've come up with is to embrace being part of the "others." The others — friends, spouses, kids, shrinks, whomever you're sharing space and time with — can help sort things out, if only by being willing sounding boards. What I'm finding, albeit late in the game, is that the folks I'll miss like hell tomorrow are the ones I turn to today.