it's not fair

When the comedian George Burns (1896-1996) was approaching his hundredth birthday he said he wasn’t worried about dying because, he said, you don’t see many people dying when they’re 100. (You do now because they’re living longer.)  I’ve quoted him before.  And I’ve also pointed out that the reason we keep on sending Christmas cards is to assure people that we’re still here.  Over half way through this year now and it’s turning out to be a dismaying, lethal one.  Remember, I decided that instead of having a big party to celebrate my 85th birthday, I would make some excursions to visit contemporary friends who didn’t have the strength or stamina or funds  to come to my event - I mean, who wants to come to Toronto in February anyway? So that’s what I’ve been doing, trying to do.  But some of my friends have left before i got to them. Maybe I’ve left it too long.

It has been possible in the last hundred or so years to make and maintain friendships in faraway places, unlike in the more distant past.  My maternal grandparents left Iceland towards the end of the nineteenth century (circa 1880) knowing they would never see their families again. People did that then., some people, often goaded into leaving by poverty or religious beliefs or a love of adventure.  They must have been triggered by huge courage and steadfast resolve, not like today when, even when they pull up their roots, they’re more relaxed.  They know they will not lose touch with their loved ones.  They take advantage of discount airfares and reward points and there’s always Skype. It was great while it lasted.

These days travel is  getting harder not only  because air fares are rising and terrorist threats are daunting but because  age is debilitating. The world is dwindling  - not the world - but our horizons.  And then there’s the sad fact that even if we can still move, not everyone can. They leave, permanently. 

Turn it the other way.  Think of how many people we know whom we never knew as children or school or college mates or as adult neighbours or co-workers.  Our communities today are large and mobile. In feudal times, people  might live and die where they were born and their friends would live and die within a radius of eight miles. Today the same facilities and technology that make communication easy also make far-flung friendships possible. I have had close friends who have never lived in the same area code as mine.  This is where it gets frightening and where the Xmas cards are depressing. With travel so attractive and easy (less so now) I have made some wonderful friends who seemed to be forever. We exchanged visits and arranged trips to see more of the world and of each other. But the roots were shallow after all.  Several of my distant friends died before I knew they were ill or they died months before anyone told me. Sometimes a daughter or a husband will tell me a year later (the next card season), or a card is returned, or a long silence suggests that the friend is gone.

It’s not fair.