A few months ago we wrote an entry about our dear friend George Wenckeback, whom we called Bono, the entry with the great picture of Brooke with Bono at his wedding. Tonight Bono’s wife Diane called to say that he had died. You could hear it in her voice even before she told us; we’d known it was coming.
Bono had been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer eight years ago, and at the time given six months to live. He’d gotten five really good years, and then three years of pain. Bono was a great model, a man with an extraordinary will to live, genuinely extraordinary. He’d survived long beyond what was expected, and he kept surviving and surviving and surviving, even again these terrible odds.
This blog entry is a personal one for us, but we also want to mourn publicly Bono’s death. Hardly any of the readers of this blog knew him, we assume, since he wasn’t a friend from the usual circles of Brooke’s past, but that doesn’t make any difference; the death of a beloved friend can be shared by all of us.
By an odd coincidence, I celebrated my 50th prep school reunion today with my former classmates. The school is in Lakeville, Connecticut, two thousand miles away. I’d hoped to be able to travel there—we’d begun making arrangements as long as a year ago—but in the end we did it by skype. Moved by Bono’s death, it leads us to reflect on how many classmates have already gone, how many couldn’t be there, but a huge proportion of the class still was.
It was a delight to see these faces: some of them faces I last saw 50 years ago, when we all graduated; others are faces of friends I still see frequently, and who’ve come to see me in Utah. One of them had just come back from visiting a classmate, C.C., we’d both known well who now has advanced Alzheimers—he’s gone, he said, several times, as if it were impossible to believe, he’s gone. He’s gone. My friend pointed out that while C.C. still has a body, he has no mind, and while I have no body, or at least no functional body, I still have a mind. That’s what’s made all the difference to me, to be able to read, to think, to teach, to teach a book as demanding and deep as Walden. But, oddly, Bono—the old friend who has just died—doesn’t seem to be gone. He seems to be still present, or, rather, what he represented is still present, that extraordinary will to live against all odds.
Someone from the 50th class reunion joked about getting together again at our 75th. Of course, we all know that almost none of us, if any, will still be alive then, and when I see these faces on the computer screen via skype, it’s like a time-slice of the present, but which foreshadows the future as well as remembers the distant past. It’s true that the death of a beloved friend can be shared by all of us; but the future deaths of our classmates and beloved friends can be shared by all of us now, too. This isn’t macabre; this is just a simple fact, that in celebrating a 50th reunion, even if what my former classmates are seeing on the screen is a motionless guy in a wheelchair with a feeding tube sticking out of his nose and I’m seeing guys who’ve kept themselves in pretty good shape and look like pictures of success, enjoying cocktails in their sports jackets and ties, the deaths of beloved friends will be increasingly mourned by us all. It’s a cohort of classmates moving through the age spectrum together; that’s perfectly natural, and we all know what will be coming. We are the friends who will be mourning each other, and even though Bono wasn’t part of this group, and even though C. C. isn’t fully gone, still that awareness of finitude for all of us is what this day of now-mourned death and skype-celebrated reunion brings.