Diminished By Death

The noted 20th century thinker C.S. Lewis was noted for his insights on many things, but among his most poignant are his reflections on friendship and death. Lewis was known to be part of a particularly influential and creative group of friends, the Inklings, which have been studied because of their influence, and included in this group were a diverse set of people who did not always see eye to eye. One of Lewis’ insights was that the death of a friend did not mean that one had more of one’s other friends, but rather less. Every person in a given group often has a unique ability to draw something out of other people in that group, and without that person, certain aspects of our personality and character simply do not come out. That is not always a bad thing, for other people do not always bring the best of ourselves out, but it is something that leaves us undiscovered territory perhaps even to ourselves if we lack the people who bring out certain aspects of our character and nature that are there to be drawn out if only the right people were around.

There are many ways in which the loss of other people diminishes our lives. We may think about the memories and the good times that we had with close friends and lament the fact that we will never be able to spend time with those friends in this life and enjoy the spark that they brought to even the mundane interactions we often find ourselves in, especially those of us who live rather constrained lives. Those people who bring interesting questions and worthwhile interactions into our lives, and encourage us to think about things we might not otherwise consider, are certainly people to be greatly missed when their time on earth has come to an end. Our lives are impoverished by the loss of people who can be relied upon to encourage us to think about things that we would not otherwise think of, to answer questions that we might not even think to ask.

For some people, the essential aspects of their nature may be brought out by people who have certain roles, such that their essential natures may be recognized by anyone who meets that role in their lives, which may at times seem like a matter of plugging people into the voids and holes that exist from losses and then moving on from there. For other people, though, it is a great challenge to find people to fill essential roles in our lives, to bring out of us what is probably worth being seen and felt and understood. The isolation that results from the loss of friends, family, and loved ones may make it hard for us to live lives that are truly to be enjoyed. At times, life can become something to be endured, as an often lengthy and grueling effort in overcoming the pain and suffering that comes from bodies, societies, communities, institutions, and relationships that fall apart and break down all too easily and all too often. Even if that loss is not permanent–for we expect that we and they will be raised up once again (not everyone, it should be noted, shares this expectation)–that loss diminishes us for now because so long as we live, we remain subject to be reminded by people and times before that have been lost to death but not to bittersweet memory of what once was.

Knowing the extent to which our own lives can be diminished by the death of those around us can often give us, if we are reflective enough, some recognition of the ways in which others are diminished by our loss. What are the things that we draw out of people that would remain latent and unknown and unrecognized if not for us? What other people draw out of us can help us to understand what role they play in our lives, and the reverse is true as well. If we are the heroes of our own stories, we play a great many roles in the lives of those people who are around us. The richness and variety of those roles can indicate the complexity that we have in terms of our relationships with others. We might be bit characters in the lives of most of the people around us, but to at least a few people, we likely have some significant role that may not always be understood or openly discussed, but which is felt all the same. And, regardless of the lives of others that we have reason to reflect upon, let us never forget that no matter for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us all.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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