I can still feel the burn of teardrops that streamed down my face on that night in Freshman year. I was lamenting my own fate then. I felt it again today. I am mourning the passing of someone I knew now.
That was four years ago, also a Spring night, I scrolled past a Chinese quote as I ate dinner. The quote roughly translated to “I am scared that, even at the end, I never caught up to the self onto which so much hope was placed.” The beef brisket was half-eaten because I had to pace down Alexander Walk for a club meeting.
Every blow of wind reminded me of the amount of solitude implicit in being in the streets where the only companions are lamp posts a regular shadow apart. Taylor Swift was singing through my headphones “They see right through me. Can you see right through me? They see right through me. I see right through me.”
I saw right through me. The caprice. The pretension. The contradictions. The hopes of my eager parents — there is so much they don’t know. The cluelessness about how to get there. The powerlessness about never being able to get there. That’s when it hit me.
But I didn’t let anyone see. Nobody was around. The street was dark to the extent that no amount of lamp posts could light my face nor my tears. I washed it off and blew my nose in the toilet before entering the meeting room.
Four years older now, I’d like to think that I’m wiser too. I can get over the fact that I might never catch up to the aspirations of my past. I can stand up against other people’s expectations. I am fine with seeing through myself. I’ve made peace with that.
I thought I also made peace with death. A part of the wisdom that comes with old age is accepting death, I thought. Like the bloom and withering of flowers, life and death is just the karmic cycle, I thought. I would learn that this peace isn’t quite settled yet.
The email about his passing came during dinner today. On the walk down Alexander Walk to dance practice, images kept popping into my head. Inconsequential moments and impressions they were. A backpack, a skateboard, the curriculum at the VR club, the ambition to revive it.
I didn’t want to cry — it felt like a self-important gesture, crossing a line of sorts, assuming the place of someone close to him. But even with this distance, for someone who I’ve simply admired from our simple interactions, I felt my defenses crumbling. Death broke the truce in a smug triumph.
So tears came anyway. Grieving for he who I knew. Grieving for the many many in the time to come who will go.
I had an inkling, when I paraded around my peace with death, that it was an illusion propped up by distance. As it turns out, distance not only creates beauty but also false comfort. I can justify this to myself by thinking that my armistice with death still stands generally, it’s just the element of regret that tipped the scale in this case: there is so much I hadn’t known, so much I’d wanted to know, so much I wish I knew. Maybe it’ll be different when the turn comes for someone who is older and closer to me. Or maybe I’ll be disillusioned again.
I started doing yoga to increase flexibility and aid digestion, but apparently it can also slow down aging. Aging is a process that I've always dreaded. Rationally, yes, there is different scenery at every age. Yet the irrational fear of being weak, wrinkled, confused, bald, and alone persists. Then there’s the canonical diminishing value of time as one ages. One year at 22 is nothing like one year at 35, at which point the work-home-restart pattern must’ve become so entrenched to destroy any prospect of reinvention. Now there is one more reason: “the hardest part,” as I heard from a song, “of growing old is that some people that you love don’t.”
Maybe it’s true, that being weak and wrinkly doesn’t mean losing who I am now. I still enjoy grocery shopping — grabbing breakfast from Coop, tasting wines from Trader Joe’s, picking out milk from Carrefour — even though on my birthday last year I was afraid I’d lost the love for trying new things. I was also afraid that I’d become disinterested in watching movies on the plane — I watched four on the way back from Milan. To add on top of that, some things I’d believed in the past did become the magnificent present. So I will grow old, accept the fact that I’ll age, enjoy the stages without limelight, even if only to appreciate the scenery for those who might never.
And find a way to live with the fact that, despite all the sealed regrets, despite I never said goodbye, some people will stay young forever.