14 March 20XX +1
My Dear Lucilius:
Today is my father’s birthday.
He passed years ago of course and with his wish on where he was to be buried – out of state from where we then lived – and then the move that brought me to here, I have not been to his grave site in many years (nor does it seem likely that I shall see it in the foreseeable future).
We often came here, to The Cabin, when I was young to spend the summers with my grandparents, who would drive up here around May (when most of the snow was gone) and stay until September (when the snow started returning). There was about as much to do here then as there is now: Fish. See the wilderness. Visit. Fish more.
His presence continues to fill this space, of course: he was coming up here before I was even born and there is a picture here of him in his jeans and white T-shirt watching me in a cloth diaper playing in the yard. If I were to dig in the closet hard enough, I still think I might be able to find some of the metal cars I was playing with in that picture. I, ever a fool for nostalgia, can still find things I can still never part with.
It is odd how the presence of the departed stays with us even after then are gone.
Typically it is not something that one dwells when our loved ones are alive, this realization that they will be gone – an ultimate form of incommunicado – with any real conviction or mediation, or at least something I did not dwell on.
It is true in the society that was the late 20th and early 21st Century the West moved around in a way that it had not prior. Our loved ones too often became another person one spoke with remotely or visited on vacation. In a meaningful and perhaps unrealized way, such a sense has started every earlier during the great periods of colonization in the 18th and 19th Century: the trend of leaving and never returning due to distance and cost was well established before distance and cost were no longer an issue but choice and convenience were.
And so many accepted and adopted the fact that family relationships were just another version of the virtual and partial relationships that they experienced in everyday life. And that – like a letter, or phone call, or InterWeb contact, one could just reach out and they would be there.
Until, of course, they are not.
Does religion play a role in this? I suppose so, yes. If one believes that one will see one’s loved ones in the future – even a far future – it makes the separation less hard to bear. In that sense I have never understood how the true materialist continued to function after the death of loved ones: that was it. That was all. Perhaps even they, in their heart of hearts, thought there was a future meeting that even they believed they could not see.
In some ways I suppose, the reality of the Japanese festival of Obon, where the dead return to the land of the living for a time, remains true: in a very real sense, even if only in memory, the dead continue to be with us, circulating in and out of our lives with a wispy touch and continuing appearance and disappearance out of the corner of our eye. They haunt our reality not as fiendish specters seeking to deprive of our vital energy (much to the dismay of Gothic horror writers), but as memory and perhaps guidance as we think on them and their advice (or what their advice would have been, given whatever the current situation we find ourselves in is).
But all of this does not change the fact that they are not present, and are at times sorely missed.
Even after all these years, I still have the voice mails from him preserved on my phone, there to listen to if desired. Foolishness perhaps – eventually even the phone will not be able to be charged and the voice will disappear with everything else.
Memories in the end are no substitute for the reality of the person, even if in disembodied voice form.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca