William Rivers Pitt | Know It to the Bone

Man's silhouette over starry dawn(Image: Starry dawn, man’s silhouette via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

I was doing some sorting and organizing a few days ago, the kind of re-shuffling you do when the leaves start to turn and you feel the first faint kiss of winter on your cheeks, when I came across a hatbox my mother had painted years ago. I opened it, and there inside was my black fedora, the one with the small feather in the band … the one I wore to my friend Brian’s funeral just about a year ago. I put it on for a moment, and then laid it on the dining room table for some reason instead of putting it back in the box, and it catches my eye every time I pass it by. I haven’t put it away yet. I suppose I will, after the last bit of that one year has passed.

I miss my friend. I miss his smile, and his utterly unfettered laughter. I miss his glowing emerald green eyes. I miss how he owned every room he entered. I miss his unmatched cool. I miss how the simple act of being in his presence made me feel six inches taller, every time. We were roommates three times – in Worcester, Jamaica Plain and downtown – and I knew him like I know the back of my hand … and then, like a puff of smoke in a breeze, he was gone. It has been a long year.

Two bombs went off at a peace rally in Turkey and killed nearly 100 people. Nine people are dead after a gun massacre in Oregon. Twenty-two people are dead in a hospital in Afghanistan after US munitions split the building in half for reasons passing all understanding. There was a school shooting in Arizona that claimed one life. There was a school shooting in Houston that claimed one life. Both took place on the same day, the 46th and 47th school shootings this year.

I see these things, and I think about loss. I’ve been fortunate, in the main. My grandparents passed in their due time, I have attended the funerals of parents of friends, and friends of friends, but Brian … see, the one solid towering positive of being an only child is this: When you don’t have brothers and sisters, you get to choose your brothers and sisters. Brian was my brother, blood of my blood. Losing him last November was like having a mob of scorpions run down my throat. They’re still in me, stinging. I don’t believe they will ever go away.

I miss my friend. I miss his smile, and his utterly unfettered laughter.“I miss my friend. I miss his smile, and his utterly unfettered laughter.”I believe that’s what we are missing as a species: the true appreciation of grief. There have been some 87,000 gunfire-caused funerals since the horror of Sandy Hook. 87,000 holes have been blasted through the lives of 87,000 families and God only knows how many friends. That’s just here, and just recently. How many millions around the world have been delivered into the crippling agony of loss? The reason: We have been tamed, taught not to care, numbed to the point of incapacitation. We’re sad for a day, maybe, and then we forget.

It is getting dark earlier and earlier in the evenings here, and staying dark later in the mornings. The weather during the daylight hours has been gorgeous – cobalt blue skies, warm sun, cool wind – which makes the ever-earlier departure of the sun all the more poignant. The leaves are turning finally and fast, delayed by a warm September. The goldenrod is gone from the back yard, and battalions of turkeys strut the land.

Many months ago, for no discernible reason other than the old habits of new fatherhood, I started banging awake every morning around 5 am. Even on the rare days I could sleep in, I was up. My wife slept on, my daughter slept on, even the birds hadn’t been roused, and I would go sit, and think, and watch the dawn with a glass of the purest water on earth in my hand. The last few lingering stars would fade against the slow, peaceful onslaught of the light coming over the mountain. It was my time, and I cherished it.

It is still my time, but I realized something this morning. I awoke at 5 am as usual, came and sat with my water, but it was dead black outside. It stayed that way until after 6:30 am, and by then my wife was up, and my daughter was up, and the day was underway, I had work to do, and then I was busy. Eventually, the dawn came. I had my time, but I had it in the dark, because the season is rolling over for real and true.

I am going to miss my sepia dawns, and will have to spend my time now with the dark. That’s cool. As Dr. Seuss said, don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened. It happened, and my dawns will return after a budget of cold and snow. In the meantime, I will wait.

I will sit in the dark and think of my friend Brian, and of everyone who has lost someone dear. I will try to figure out how to convince people – one at a time, for as long as it takes – that this isn’t working, that blunted indifference is the wellspring of sorrow to the tall profit of a few. Because it is how it is does not mean this is always how it has to be. I believe that. I know it to the bone. I will sit in my dark, and when the sun climbs over the mountain, I will get back to work.

I am a very patient man.