On the death of friends and the fleetingness of life
I hate social media. If it wasn’t for that damned, demonic invention, I wouldn’t have found out that a friend of mine, whom I knew for almost 25 years, has suddenly died at just 40 years of age. True, I hadn’t seen her in almost 5 years, but that was because I no longer live in Brazil and rarely visit. The last time I was there, at the end of 2019, just before the corona pandemic, I thought of visiting her. But she lived in another town, and I did not have many days in the country, so in the end I didn’t go. I regret it now. Soon after, Covid regulations made travel to Brazil all but impossible for almost two years, and now she’s gone.
Gone! I still cannot bring myself to believe it. Cancer, apparently, although I had no idea she was ill. In some of her last pictures in social media she appeared with short, dyed hair, which somehow didn’t seem to suit her. When I met her for the first time, in 1998, she was a pretty young woman of 17, and for years she sported such beautiful long hair. But now I think: chemo. It was probably chemo. Although she looked healthy in the pics, and her hair wasn’t completely cut, just short, so I don’t really know.
I cannot even imagine her as an ill, dying person. She seemed so full of life. She had always a smile on her face and was one of those people who seemed to exemplify the idea of “living for the moment”. She seems to have had different boyfriends during her short life but I think (I could be wrong) she never officially married, and had no children. She was an actress, and a very talented one at that, but she worked sparingly, having appeared in only a few plays in her life, and, as far as I know, only in one short movie. Here she can be seen at 2’09” in her only scene in the short movie “Novembrada”, from 1998 — the year we met, at a film workshop taught by the director of that film. I think once I told her that, one day, I would direct a film with her in the main role, and of course I never did — but then again, my own career as a film director seems to have fizzled out for the most part.
I have several memories of her and her family — both of her parents were well-known local visual artists, very interesting people in their own right, and they lived in a house with a large garden near the beach — but even all those memories are fading fast now, and I struggle to picture the exact surroundings of the house. I vaguely remember a living room full of art objects of all kinds; I remember more clearly a backyard full of trees and quite a few dogs and cats always roaming around. And while the house was not on the beach, you could reach the sea by crossing through a vacant lot behind the backyard.
I saw her for the last time almost twenty years after our first meeting, in or around 2017. That’s when I went with her and family and friends to a trip to the mountains in her native state. I seem to have lost all pictures of that trip — or perhaps it didn’t really happen, and it was just a dream? And yet I remember having taken lots of photographs, but now in my computer I find tons of useless random photos from decades ago, bot not a single image of that trip. It as a wonderful but also slightly melancholy moment, or perhaps it just seems so now in retrospect. The death of friends, especially if they are younger than us, make us aware of our own mortality, and of the general ephemeral quality of life. Here today, gone tomorrow. “Don’t ask for whom the bells toll, they toll for thee.”
I’m not sure if she knew that line by John Donne, but she liked to recite poems, and I always remember a line of a poem that I wouldn’t have known were it not because of her, by local poet Rodrigo de Haro: “Somos todos crianças que o tempo separa”.
We are all children whom Time separates.
Another favorite of hers (and mine) was Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, and so it seems apt to end this melancholy memoir with a couple of his poems, that, as usual for his heteronym Ricardo Reis, is a reflection on the fleetingness of life. “Vem sentar-te comigo, Lídia, à beira do rio” (Come sit with me, Lidia, by the riverside) is perhaps the most famous one, and one that I’m sure I must have heard her recite at least once. But I offer you, dear, unknown reader, another one below, in Portuguese and English, which seems to suit the poignancy of the moment:
Ao longe os montes têm neve ao sol,
Mas é suave já o frio calmo
Que alisa e agudece
Os dardos do sol alto.
Hoje, Neera, não nos escondamos,
Nada nos falta, porque nada somos.
Não esperamos nada
E temos frio ao sol.
Mas tal como é, gozemos o momento,
Solenes na alegria levemente,
E aguardando a morte
Como quem a conhece.
* * *
Snow-leaden peaks shine by sunlight, afar,
But it feels soothing by the calm chill air
Which tightens and tapers
The darts of the high sun.
Today, Neera, let us not hide ourselves; –
We lack nothing, for we are nothing.
We have no expectations
And feel cold by the sun. –
But, such as it is, let us seize the day, –
Solemn in joyfulness, delicately,
And kindly waiting for Death
As if for an old friend.
P. S. On a happier note, did I tell everyone that the new Geist magazine is out? Buy it, read it, share it. Thanks.