I have just been knocked sideways, by the news of the death of a friend.
She was my Greek teacher and a remarkable person, with a ready laugh and one of those mischievous twinkles you can hear in some voices.
She died of a massive stroke in January, nine whole months ago, and I never knew anything about it. I was momentarily angry with her for not telling me about such an important event in her life. It seemed so . . . well, so unfriendly!
Of course I know she couldn’t tell me, but I think this sense of unfairness is present in all bereavements, even small ones like the loss of the use of a leg. It is part of grieving.
The internet seems to simultaneously bind us together and cast us adrift, on our own, drowning in a sea of trivial data. On the one hand, social media and emails make it feel that we are totally connected to all the others in our lives. It has made the face-to-face greeting of “How are you?” redundant, for the answer is public knowledge in the form of the digital chatter of tweetts, blogs and Facebook updates.
Yet, precisely because we have all these new ways to stay close, a friend can die and we don’t know. It feels like a betrayal, though I am not sure who or what is betraying who or what.
There is a catch of sadness in that, a suppressed sob in the throat.
Did I betray my friend, by assuming she was having such a good time that she couldn’t find the time to update her Status? Did my friend betray me by not giving me the time or warning to cope with her death? Did the Internet fail both of us, by promising us a connectivity it could not deliver?
Wherever the betrayal lies, it has come and left its calling card.
It reminds me of, not just my mortality, but the suddenness of it all. It reminds me that I might die in the next ten seconds, here at my keyboard, with no chance to make that final call on the mobile phone, no time to bring my Will up to date, not even the opportunity to turn the light off.
What a mess I would leave behind. And those on the outer orbits of my social solar system? How would they know?
For the time being, all that is left for me is to pay my respects to my friend and my teacher. I shall miss your stories of Thessaloniki, and I shall miss telling you my tales of Zakynthos.