Perhaps the most enduring feminine stereotype: the bottomless bag. A few days ago I stuck my whole arm into my backpack, attempting to unearth my cell phone, and as the passing seconds were enunciated by my persistent ringtone, as my fingers touched everything but the thing I wanted, I was moved by a peculiar sensation a little like déj– vu. It was a clicking moment; an instance of appropriateness corresponding to an unknown source for reasons I couldn’t exactly identify. Upon devoting some more conscious thought to the feeling, I realized I was coming to an understanding about the recent and untimely death of a very close friend.
My friend Jay died for no other reason than that he failed to stop at a red light on Wolven Boulevard a little after midnight in the Michigan countryside. Perhaps if he had been driving his van the person who hit him might have seen him breaking the rules again, might have been able to swerve to avoid him. As it was he was a significantly less visible astride his moped, which had escorted generations of his family around the country, which Jay loved like a baby, and which met its end as a heap of miscellaneous bits and pieces on the side of the road.
Jay’s death did not suit any of his friends. Not a single individual amongst his inner circle could identify him or herself as “God-fearing.” Only a week prior to his passing, Jay himself had berated our friend Matt for what he considered to be the unforgivably childish offense of believing in souls. We lived in a small, conservative, predominately Christian town, and we were adolescently proud to call ourselves atheists.
But on the morning of July 2nd, 2008, we weren’t taking pride in our atheism; we were feeling where it left us. Personally I know now that until Jay died I didn’t have a clue about the concept of faith. My best friend is suddenly gone, disappeared, and I can hardly cope with the void. I want to believe that he is still here somehow, but there is no evidence of this to serve my sensible mindset. I want to believe that he is at least alright, that there is an afterlife taking care of him, but there’s no proof of that either.
Thus for the past few months I have struggled with my inability to forsake the atheist values I shared with Jay so that I might make peace with his death; in other words, my lack of faith. Unable to believe in God, I am not comforted to know that Jay is being taken care of, that his spirit still resides among us, or even that I have Someone to blame for taking him away. Every day I’ve had nothing. The thought was loathsome to me, until I was groping fruitlessly for my cell phone and I had a small epiphany.
Every item I touched that was not my phone was like a solution to Jay’s death I had considered that didn’t fit. I was looking and looking, but that pen was not the reason he died when he was only nineteen, those sunglasses were not an explanation for that driver coming to the intersection of Wolven and Courtland at precisely that second, and that lip balm was not a message from the great beyond letting me know that he is ok. And when I finally found my cell phone, it was to discover that I had missed a call from the library letting me know that I had a book overdue. Nothing was what I wanted or expected, but it did instill me with this belief: the death of a friend yields only countless questions, not answers. And that’s as it should be, because there couldn’t possibly be an answer tidy enough to explain the sudden absence of someone you loved so much.
A few seconds after I grappled with these big ideas I needed a hanky. But when I scrambled again in my backpack I was significantly less annoyed than usual.