I watched some Bob Ross painting shows this weekend. With a couple brush strokes followed by pushing some paint on the canvas, he created these solid rocks, complete with textures and little stories in their rapid details. Those rocks could break waves, stop light, host moss, and otherwise provide a stable presence in the painting.
People can be like that, you know? A relationship can be just a few key interactions, surrounded by whatever texture you want, and it can seem like an immutable fact of life that this person is there for you, with you, on your side, a rock in your painting. But, in fact, that friendship can still be as fragile as oils on canvas.
My life is a story I tell myself, just like a landscape painting is an image of a scene or place. You can have a “happy accident” as Ross would say, blocking in a stone face where you would not have expected one, and having it rebalance and anchor your scene.
My friend Paul died three years ago yesterday.
Grief is not a line, not really a linear journey. It is cyclical, with things that come and go, different emphasis, different sweetness and bitterness, sour notes competing with the good.
I once compared grief to a boulder that settles on you. In time, it doesn’t get less heavy, but you manage to chip it apart into smaller stones, and eventually gravel. You can redistribute the load, get used to it. Eventually it grinds down to sand. But does it ever really go away? Or do you just get stronger through carrying it so the weight isn’t as desperate anymore?
Paul was unique. He had a blend of pragmatism and compassion, of openness and boundaries, of humor and gravity that was all his own. He was so sure in himself that he was not threatened if you were yourself. On more than one occasion he would wryly remind me that people play in my games not because of the settings, or the ideas, or the rules, but because they liked stories and they liked me.
I wonder how he would get along with my kids now. I want to talk to him about my projects, I know he’d let me go on and on until I ran out of things to say, and with that pressure off we could look over the field of it and see it clearly for once. He’d tell me about work, and we’d rehash some of the stories from the past, and the world would turn, the sun would rise and fall, and things would go on much as they have.
Paul will always be a part of my life. But now, like the fine china set, his presence is kept secured in a cabinet instead of pulled out daily for routine use. He is always present in a way, a memory anchored to my story, shifting its balance, pulling quietly at the past and the future with the changes he made in me.
It has been a long, long three years, my friend. Now that you’re out from under the glacier of slowly sliding time, you’ll have to take my word for it. Everything is different and everything is the same, just as you’d expect. Rest in peace, Paul. Rest in peace.