Mundane miracles

Is someone really dead if you don’t know they’ve died? I had a friend who died in 2008, but I didn’t know until nine days after the fact. Until the moment I knew, he was still alive to me and I often wondered what he was up to and how he was doing.

We’d lost touch for so long that I am now astonished that the lag of my not knowing was only nine days. (Buried in my email is proof.) In my warped memory—in the first draft of this writing—I remembered not knowing for several years. He was the kind of friend who had many friends. I still think of him as my best friend from college, which always hurts to say because I don’t understand how I allowed our paths to diverge as much as they did.

I found out one night when I was alone in my apartment after work and wondered yet again what he might be up to in his life. For some reason, this time, I went so far as to type his name into the Google search bar.

One of the first results was a public Facebook group with his name in it. “C_____ BROUGHT US TOGETHER,” it said, in all capital letters. I started reading what others had posted there. People were sharing memories, words of praise, and expressions of love. It was almost celebratory, but something was off. People were also saying they missed him. Understanding began to flicker in my mind. I remained defiantly confused. But back in the search results were news articles that told the irrefutable truth: he and two others had died when their car careened off the cliffs of Highway 1 near Big Sur.

I have often imagined the moment the car took flight and the nearly simultaneous moment of unbelievable, impossible, terrifying clarity about what had happened, of what was happening.

And I have often imagined an alternate, preposterous universe in which I, a derelict friend, somehow could have saved him, saved them all. If I had only tried to call him at precisely the right moment, maybe he would have decelerated just so and I would still be able to call him today.

I live now in California where my friend died, and when my husband wondered aloud in March whether it would be more scenic to drive on the coastal Highway 1 than on the inland 101 for our upcoming spring break road trip, I was overcome by a sudden wave of panic and grief. Without acknowledging it, I’d specifically designed our family trip around the 101.

There is another friend I met in 2020. I am mature enough to know I don’t need to fear losing touch with her. (Put another way, we would know if one of us died, and not nine days later.) She received a late-stage cancer diagnosis out of the bluest blue several years ago, but today she’s still very much alive. Our rare friendship reminds me of what I cherish and fear to lose again: the minor miracle of knowing that someone who matters to you is somewhere on this earth to witness your experience of it, should you choose to share.

Zoom in too close on the details of life, and everything is dramatically trivial. Zoom out too far on the bigger picture, and nothing matters at all. But somewhere in between is a place where our connections to each other make the mundane sacred.

At least, this is how I can best describe it right now.

My friend would understand, and that is enough.

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