Six years ago Phil Hutchinson died.
I didn’t know that then; it took a couple of days for the news that the world had changed for the worse to reach me. I still know exactly where I was when it did; I still know exactly how it did. There are pieces of the immediately after that are missing. Perhaps the clocks did stop that day.
I did not attend his memorial. It is more accurate to say that I could not? Because the US government would not let me travel to get there. Or indeed, it would have let me, so long as I accepted that my green card application would start right back at the beginning.
There are many ways to break someone.
What do you say about a friend who died? That he loved the opera? That he climbed literal and figurative mountains? That he was always, always down for more tea? That he hated injustice and unfairness and waste and always found ways, big and small, to advocate for better? That he had an absolutely fantastic collection of coats and looked unfailingly dashing in a hat? That he probably knew more about economics or history or music than anyone you were likely to meet and that he always shared his knowledge with effortless generosity and enthusiasm? That in his company you were a better, more joyful person?
What would you say to a friend who died? I miss you, and I love you, and I wrote you a letter and sealed it an envelope because sometimes when grief will not be contained you channel it into forms that can. I am furious that we will never talk about UK and US politics again, or the debacle of this pandemic, or gossip about the endless foibles of institutional media. I am furious that we will never go to another ballet or spend a day getting lost all over New York on a quest to find the best possible cheesecake or read Terry Pratchett in companionable silence.
I am furious that you died, but I am so, so grateful that you lived.
“The first words that are read by seekers of enlightenment in the secret, gong-banging, yeti-haunted valleys near the hub of the world, are when they look into The Life of Wen the Eternally Surprised.
The first question they ask is: 'Why was he eternally surprised?'
And they are told: 'Wen considered the nature of time and understood that the universe is, instant by instant, recreated anew. Therefore, he understood, there is in truth no past, only a memory of the past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.'
The first words read by the young Lu-Tze when he sought perplexity in the dark, teeming, rain-soaked city of Ankh-Morpork were: 'Rooms For Rent, Very Reasonable.' And he was glad of it.”
― from Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett