The post below this one reminds me of one of the very first I wrote for JMG. Originally posted here on June 8th, 2004.
Yesterday I watched Ronald Reagan's body being ceremoniously placed for viewing in the Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The honor guard, comprised of all military services, moved with stiff dignity while placing Reagan's flag-draped coffin on its pedestal. The Marine Corps band played Hail To The Chief then My Country 'Tis Of Thee.
Tiny Nancy Reagan was lead in, followed by her children. Other military and governmental dignitaries filed in and were seated behind the Reagan family. And as the service began, as the religious figure began his familiar droning, as the mourners held each other and dabbed their eyes...I found myself....weeping. But I wasn't weeping for Ronald Reagan. I wasn't weeping for Nancy or her kids.
I was weeping for my friends. Friends that died of AIDS during Reagan's presidency. Friends that never had the slightest chance of surviving their illness because Reagan refused to even speak the word AIDS until many years into the epidemic.
I wept for Barney. Barney the party-thrower, the generous host, the bon vivant. Barney, who could make a stranger feel comfortable in a room full of a hundred new people. Barney, who actually got me to climb up and dance on a nightclub's speakers with him. I wept for Barney who died choking from pneumocystis, in the middle of the night, alone.
I wept for Peyman. Peyman, the Iranian student left stranded in Florida when the Shah fell from power. Peyman, the fashion plate with his beautiful black hair and flashing brown eyes, who wore Parachute and WilliWear and always looked fabulous. Peyman, who taught me that Iranians were not Arabs and how to curse in Farsi. I wept for Peyman who died blind, paralyzed, shrieking and demented.
I wept for Nathan. Nathan, the shy Southern boy with the Star Trek obsession. Nathan, who finally afforded me an understanding of the infield fly rule. Nathan who had an adorable habit of taking a short jump in the air when something pleased him. I wept for Nathan, whose family refused receipt of his remains.
I thought about my little black address book with 'D' for 'deceased' next to so many names. I've had friends tell me it's macabre to keep using it. I don't care. This is all so fucking unfair. I should be sending those guys silly birthday cards about being middle-aged instead of wondering who has their ashes.
As Reagan's funeral proceeded, my tears to turned to anger and back to tears. This was so not fucking right! I wanted this man to suffer more! I wanted his mind fully engaged and aware of every diaper change. I wanted him to endure endless indignities and know the same fear and ostracism and neglect that my friends had. Knowing that his mind had escaped its physical prison, I felt cheated. My revenge was incomplete.
And then I felt shame for thinking that, even about Ronald Reagan.
For the first time that I can recall, yesterday I felt my absence of faith. It's hard to invoke the satisfying image of somebody burning in hell for eternity when you don't actually believe that hell exists.
I finally turned off the television. I thought viewing Reagan's funeral would bring to me a sense of finality. Instead, I was surprised to learn that I can still cry. I didn't think I could anymore. Not like that.