They run through your head like a series of faded pictures; a smile here, a laugh there, a couple of sentences spoken in a voice just beginning to become familiar, a few sentences scribbled in haste in a classroom, an unopened email, an image of a young man sitting on the steps or lounging in a chair with his friends, answers given with a bit of nervousness and a lot of motivation during an interview.
The feelings and thoughts that populate the room where we sit, remembering Rattan, choke the air, the smiles have disappeared from the faces of a normally boisterous group of students from both years of the MA program. We make our polite speeches that hide more than they reveal, because emotion is something that can only be referred to in a controlled, structured manner in an official forum. But this is necessary too, this acknowledgment that we all share regret at a life cut short all too rudely, that we recognize the irreparable loss that this has forced upon a family and on friends, that we think and reflect on what the particularities of this loss can tell us and teach us.
Entering the home, where we are forced to intrude upon the irreconcilable despair of the parents, who have lost a child, a wrenched-from-the-gut loss, we are faced with yet another reality. A different space of absence. We express our sorrow with bent head and pressed-together palms, we speak in hushed tones of how much promise we had discerned, and we sit for a while, wishing we could wish away the hours that have passed, the split-second decisions that have resulted in a tragedy that will forever mark this space.
And I wonder how I will walk into my class, two days from now, and face those forty-odd students whose sense of the room, of their work, their interactions with each other and this beautiful landscape that they inhabit, has been deeply changed. How do we go on as if nothing has happened? How can we reclaim those ordinary conversations that now (for a long time) will carry an undercurrent of this terrible tragedy? How do we look each other in the eye and find something other than the awareness of the fact that there has been a death amidst us? How long will it take for us to not look involuntarily at that seat in the back row and stop to catch a breath?
I've spoken about this before, about how, the older you get, the more loss one experiences--one of the "perks" of living and feeling intensely, of having an ever widening network of people one cares about, even if in different ways and to varying extents. I've know good friends and relations who have lost a child, and this much one knows, that it never gets easier. Of course, this does not mean that we cease to find joy in things and people around us, or that life becomes a burden. Clearly, that's not the case. What time does have the capacity to do is to bring new interests and occupations that fill our minds and our days. Memories recede, they get put away, but they don't disappear. They lose their edge somewhat, maybe, but sometimes, at the most unexpected moments, they resurface to remind us of things that could have been.
Yes, life goes on, but it goes on without those persons who could have been a part of it, and that sense of loss, the absence, becomes a permanent presence.