“When the dying's finally done and the suffering subsides
All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind.”
-- Purple Mountains
“The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.”
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Lately, I’ve been processing loss. A friend of mine died the other day. Took his own life. Hung himself.
We were good friends in high school. Teenage hijinx, bonds born of suburban ennui, smart kids among cowboys, surrounded by a plastic city, aglow with punk rock posing. This was supposed to be the new world, all we needed were the necessities (and more).
The years spread us apart and circumstances allowed next times and new circles. We’d come back together frequently through postcards and letters, always promising that we’d meet up on the next round, but time and circumstance conspired against us, always time and circumstance. He went his way, I mine.
Finally, though, we made solid plans to see each other. I was excited to hug my old friend again. On Monday he messaged me: “thank dan. Look fwd to seeing you after / im a wreck as usual” I wrote back, telling him I hope he found some joy along the way.
On Wednesday, he was dead.
Shock, sadness, anger. I played the whole album again and again. Mutual friends reached out, we talked, remembered, laughed, tried to find process through, tried to find perspective.
Tried to understand. Tried to let go.
I took to Distraction. Looking for sources of a different intent. Different reference. Of all things, I picked up a new comic that I got in the mail. I read it. I cried. It was, perhaps, what I needed. Attempting to find clear meaning in seemingly meaningless acts requires a fresh seeing and solid grounding.
Rocks, the new self-published book by Rozi Hathaway, was that comic. Rocks is a meditation on and celebration of rocks. The rocks that she finds on the beach, especially. The single stone among a myriad of others. Ones that are special. Ones that stand out because of their shape, color, patterns, or edges. You know them when you see them. Sometimes when you are looking for them. Sometimes when you’re not. They come to you at the right time. At that moment, in no other place. They are perfect.
And yet, they are what they are, not what you want them to be. As Hathaway writes in Rocks, “But, somehow, in picking them up and bringing them home, they lose their magic, their allure.” As with so many things that come through and into our lives, there is a time. There is a spot. It brings the enchantment. An individual out of millions and millions catches your eye. Remove it from its context and sometimes the only thing that keeps it special is the memory you have of its specialness. Sometimes leaving it where it lies is the better choice.
It is, after all, a rock. It’s not a person full of complexities and simplicities, joy and darkness. People change, move on, fall apart. A rock always remains a rock, no matter what we imbue it with.
Still, it is a rock. And it has been a rock for longer than you can even imagine, much less conceive. It has rocked through eons while that which is much less rock-like has come and gone and come and gone again. Much of Rocks is Hathaway providing this perspective, noting the expanse of time at the expense of time each rock has borne witness to without seeing anything at all. Stoic. Silent. A platform from which the business of the world springs over and over again.
And in this, it provides insight into life, into death, into truth, into our endless quest to understand. As Hathaway comments towards the end of Rocks, “Every argument, … every missed appointment ..., … it doesn’t matter. The world keeps turning.”
Certainly, this is not a particularly profound or wholly original idea, but it’s a reminder of perspective, of passage, of what is transitory and what remains. We make our mark in the sand. The tide washes it away. What remains is memories. Then memories fade and those that do the remembering disappear until there is nothing left except the rocks who have no comment, no opinion, no insight, no meaning. Our grief signifies nothing other than the fact that it is our grief.
If everything is ephemeral, why do we invest so much into objects, experiences, relationships, people? Why hold on to things that eventually will slip away? Is this some flaw in the human gizmo or just a manifestation of our endless capacity for hope? What is the significance of all the strutting and huffing we do in our lives?
Why does loss hurt so much?
Loss means nothing to the rocks.
It is ours only so much as we make it so.
Maybe, perhaps. we should just let it all go and see where that takes us. Maybe, perhaps, this is healing. Maybe, perhaps, we should just sit among the rocks.
“The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveler to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.”
--------------------------------------------------------------------Daniel Elkin is the EIC of Your Chicken Enemy, the Former Small-Press Comics Editor for Comics Bulletin, and has Bylines at Loser City, Psycho Drive-In, Wink, Factional, WWAC,and PanelXPanel. He's a High School English Teacher in Northern California. He'll talk to you about Sandwiches.