A friend of mine died over the weekend.
I say ‘friend’, but I never met him. We have a handful of mutual friends on Facebook who must have shared a post of his and brought him into my news feed, into my life.
He and I had virtually nothing in common. His main passion in life was running; mine is lolling. He loved spending time with his kids; I also love spending time with my kids unless I’m actually spending time with my kids. He approached every day with a sack-load of positive energy; I lug around a heavy load of self-doubt and cynicism. He was a happy fella because he knew what made him happy; I am often morose with unfulfilled longing.
He was also dying. And whilst we are all dying (happy Monday, guys!), his death had been written, whereas mine remains a blank page.
Many people say that mourning the death of a stranger is for emotionally deficient snowflakes, as if there were a government directive on how much time you must spend with another human and what you must do in that time together in order to be allowed to grieve the loss of them.
Because he wasn’t my husband, my brother, my son or even my real-life friend, his death won’t turn my world upside down. I can still breathe and laugh and sleep and do all the things the closely bereaved find suddenly unbearable. But I fall to the ground and melt for him and his family, my heart triple-beating that there will be no more updates from him in my news feed.
Humans are supposed to connect. Even with other humans who we feel to be outrageous turds. We move through each day butting-up against each other, getting in each other’s way and then sometimes, someone gets in your way and you’re very glad they did.
On Friday night, when my friend-I-never-met was in his final hours, I was in an extremely hot, shabby clubhouse. The music was loud and hypnotic. The drinks were cheap and it was rammed with humans butting up against each other, getting in each other’s way, gloriously.
Also glorious, when you’re my age, is being hit on by FOUR fellas and not all of them were pensioners.
The first was a hot young chap who was employed to stand on the stage, near the DJ, wearing shades and dancing provocatively for our pleasure. At one point he descended the stage, approached me in the middle of the dance floor and informed me that I was a ‘great dancer babe’ and also that I looked ‘fucking hot’ and whilst it’s true I was sweating profusely, I don’t think he was talking about my body temperature.
My attire helped. It was the first outing of my Jezza t-shirt and it proved to be a most splendid, multi-gender conversation starter in this leftie part of town:
The second chap was definitely under 40. Or at least my mates helped me believe he was. He grabbed me and bellowed into my ear, ‘I have to tell you, you’re amazingly sexy’ and then followed it up with a reassuring ‘don’t worry, I’m not being weird, I’ve got a girlfriend’.
The third chap was over 60. He just kinda followed me around the dance floor, watching me, but in a very friendly way.
The fourth chap was 70ish and wore a wig, which I believe is to be admired. We met outside, having a fag. We agreed that when life is shitty, dancing is the best escape. He said, ‘you escape beautifully young lady’.
Yes. In this context, I WAS a young lady. And yes, in this clubhouse almost everyone apart from me was loved-up on drugs whereas I was driven only by music and diet coke…
I thought I was too old and too feministy to seek gratification from the attention of men. Until one night you discover that being old and feministy is not unattractive to some men (who are on drugs) and that being older and feministy makes it all feel unthreatening and just marvellously flattering because they weren’t being creepy they were just being lovely (coz of the drugs).
For four hours I forgot my life. I connected with other humans who I’d never met before and would never meet again. It was wonderful.
When I got home, my hips aching, ears ringing, I thought how this must be similar to the euphoria runners can feel after a good race.
Thinking about my friend-I-never-met, I understand now how even when he was very sick, he kept on running because he kept on seeking that life-affirming energy.
Sadly, I cannot get away with announcing to Gwyneth at 10pm every evening that I’m just ‘popping out for a quick clubbing session and to get hit on’. And I am certainly not in danger of taking up actual running. But in the spirit of my friend-I-never-met, I will keep on dancing whenever I can, no matter how poorly or sad I may be.
And when I become old and invisible, in my bad wig with my wrinkly face, I will make sure to tell strangers that they are beautiful dancers.
It’s perfectly possible to appreciate, love and care about a person we’ve never met.
We should reverse what our mothers told us and ALWAYS talk to strangers…