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Our Waking Hours

"Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting"

- Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House

Thursday, August 3rd, at 9:51pm, I was sleeping. It had been a long day that constituted a segment of an even longer week, thus, an hour or so earlier, I comfortably put head to pillow and entered a period of restfulness. Across town, a 53-year-old man named Gus Edwards was breathing his last breath, the victim of a gunshot wound inflicted earlier in the evening. The dichotomy of these two situations is something that occurs all too often in our world, and will, I fear, continue to do so for as long as humanity resides upon this earth.

There is always a twinge of guilt that occurs whenever I learn of someone's premature death, especially somebody local. Awakening contentedly in my bed that Friday morning and reading the news of Mr. Edwards' death on my phone induced a momentary pang of remorse, coupled with gratitude. Remorse because it felt almost like an affront to having been alive and happy at a time when a man was under assault and, later, dying. Gratitude because it was another day (or at least morning) granted to me by whatever was in control of such things -- God? Fate? Chance?

As the weekend began and life took its normal hold over hour-to-hour and day-to-day events, the demise of Mr. Edwards receded from immediate memory. Sunday afternoon, however, I went to the local art-house cinema and watched the new movie A Ghost Story (highly recommended, by the way), and it began with the quote from Virginia Woolf's A Haunted House that sits atop this blog entry. Immediately, my thoughts traced back to Mr. Edwards. And not just him, but everyone else in the world whose door had shut while my own hours had been spent waking.

My mind drifts back twenty years ago, to Thursday, August 21st, 1997. It was early evening and I had finished working retail for the day at Circuit City. It had been raining that day, and when it rained it knocked-out the phone line to my little abode, so there were no messages on the answering machine. Knowing that my father was ill with cancer, I decided to call over to his house in Springfield to check-up on him. My uncle Austin answered. Dad had died earlier that day. They'd tried calling to tell me, but couldn't leave a message. And... that was it.

That was, perhaps, my first experience of the waking guilt that Woolf alludes to in her story. Or perhaps the guilt aspect is an inference on my part? Regardless, while I had been chirpily selling compact discs and DVDs to strangers all day, my father's struggle with a wretched disease hadcome to an end. And I'd been completely oblivious to it, until coming home that evening. It was an odd sensation, partly because it was personal, but also because it had taken something personal to alert me to the fact that life goes on, every single day, regardless of the death that surrounds it.

And there's the rub: life & death are a common, every day occurrence. In fact, that is such a rudimentary observation that it scarcely needs saying. People die every day who we do not know, whom we will never be aware of. Others are born to replace them. Waking hours and doors shutting. But the ones we do know about, those are the ones that sting. And it will happen to all of us. I am both mortified and comforted by the thought that, some day, when my door shuts, others will be awakening at that same hour, continuing their participation in life. Good for them.


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