If you’re married and you don’t fight with your spouse about television shows, you are suspect to me. The Wife likes to tease me about our Netflix queue, which is pretty much 99 percent bleak documentaries about human atrocities, past and present. She jokes that we need to throw a few rom-coms or stoner flicks into the mix just to lighten things up. She says that, but whenever I go out of town I return to discover she’s spent the weekend watching tearjerkers about some old couple, one of whom has Alzheimer’s, the other who is watching the love of his life slip through his fingers piece by heartbreaking piece. That kind of shit I cannot stomach.
I’ve been bingeing on Vice News’ weekly shows while I had my friend’s HBO code (before the bastard had the nerve to cancel his subscription). Through the lens of their dude-bro-style of reporting, I learned hundreds of things I had no idea were happening. Things like an entire generation (realistically, it will likely be several generations) of Afghans suffering horrible and painful birth defects due to the bombs we dumped on them for 10 years, which happened to contain (surprise!) spent uranium. Once we pulled out, we left millions of tons of rusting equipment to rot in the sand. Scavengers picking over the equipment had no idea they were exposing themselves to unhealthy radiation, and now they and their children are suffering as the result.
I learned about an area of current modern-day Kazakstan called the Polygon where the USSR tested over 450 nuclear bombs in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s and where residents there are suffering a much worse fate than those Afghan children due the much higher levels of exposure they received. Their government cared about the health of their people as much as our government cared that they were exposing millions of Afghans to potential deadly radiation, which is to say, not at all.
I learned that surrogacy is a multibillion-dollar business in India, where they’ve perfected inserting a fertilized egg into young Indian girls for the purpose of carrying fetuses for rich white people coming from all over the globe because the process is thousands of dollars cheaper there. India markets it as giving these poor, young, slum-dwelling girls more money than they would make in a lifetime of working 14-hour days as someone’s maid, which is true. Except that you find out they’re promised $10,000 and are usually cheated by so many people along the transaction line that their sum total ends up being more like $1,500, which is chump change for 9 months of 24/7 work. And none of these girls is happy to be there, despite the fact living conditions in the fertility clinic are undoubtedly better than in the slums. They are well aware that this is the last option, that they are the forgotten and ill-cared-for dregs of a society experiencing rampant capitalism and handling about as well as we are here in America.
I’ve learned that there are communities of children in Mumbai who live on the train tracks and spend their entire waking hours with rags of glue shoved into their mouths, huffing and huffing until they forget they are hungry, homeless, and parentless. Most of them are under the age of 12.
Where am I going with this recitation of the sorry state of the world today? I know, I know, this is a bummer of an entry. My wife is right---maybe I should start watching peppier shows, but oddly these tales of human suffering have been grounding me as of late. I dunno, it’s really hard to get worked up about the cat’s recurrent barfing on our duvet cover when you know what’s happening to kids in Syria. It’s really hard to whinge about money problems when you remember the young woman in Pakistan talking about how she was raped by the Taliban for being on a committee of women who go from house to house vaccinating children against polio. And how she told her story without shedding a tear, but when asked if she will continue to vaccinate the children of her country, she finally breaks down and whispers “yes” through quiet sobs.
Perspective. It helps. I mean, I know my problems are my problems, and to me they are dire. Wondering how I’m going to pay our house taxes this month stresses me the fuck out, but when I feel that familiar rise of panic in the form of that tightness in my chest, I take a deep breath and think about my problems in respect to real problems, like loss of life or loved ones or my dignity. You guys, it helps.
I am in the mind of all of this because my friend is dying. He’s waiting for his children to arrive today. They will say goodbye as a family, and then he will let go. He knows it’s time, and he doesn’t have the will to go on anymore. When his wife texted me this news yesterday, I was devastated. I spent most of the afternoon weeping, on and off. He was an incredibly positive man. He was an older, wealthier, white guy---not normally the type of person I’m inclined to befriend---but he was such a force of delight, I couldn’t help but get sucked into his orbit. He was part of my coffeeshop posse, and he brought joy and happiness to all of us in the group. Hell, he’s the guy who got me my current job. He knew I needed work, he happened to know of an opportunity, and while I aced the interview, there is no doubt in my mind that his stamp of approval carried a lot of weight with the people who hired me.
Craig is a marvelous man. I grieve for his wife and children. I grieve for the loss of a beautiful soul. I grieve for the conversations we’ll never have. But weirdly, having watched so much global misery through a investigative-journalist lens as of late, I am also much calmer. I mean, his death is no more or less important than the millions of people who die every day---many in much more horrific circumstances than his. Is it weird that I find this comforting? That it allows me to reflect on his life and be grateful that my friend had a happy marriage, children who’d grown up to be healthy and successful, and that he’d been able to live in relative comfort most of his life? He had a better life than probably 90 percent of the people on this planet and that delights me. He deserved every minute of it. And he spread that happiness outward wherever he went. Whether it was through his fiddle playing or his lively debates or his helping a friend get a job, he recognized he was blessed and lived his life accordingly.
I feel like so much of the past few years of my life has been wallowing---about my pain, about my job, about loss of youth, about my depression, about the state of the world---and it’s been oddly refreshing to pull myself out of this mental quagmire partly by thinking about my problems in relation to the rest of the world. Yes, I realize there’s a whole meme for this called #firstworldproblems, but I’ve been really taking it to heart. I guess it’s the self-soothing equivalent of when your parents used to say “Shut up before I come in there and give you something to really cry about.”
As for Craig, I’m taking comfort that I met him before it was his time and got to experience him in my life these past two years. Two years is better than nothing. So while this entry may seem like an odd tribute to my dying friend, I think he’d be pleased to know I’m thinking of him as a happy and blessed soul and thinking about how grateful I am that we got to cross paths at all.