Large clouds obstruct what would be a forgettable sunset and grey ocean slushes along the slimy wall of the embarcadero. The water moves rather calmly but occasionally gets agitated and during these moments splashes aggressively into the man-made barrier. The sporadic splashing sends a cool mist into the air, and my body hair stands up for a formal greeting as it makes contact with my exposed skin. A shiver originating at my tailbone crawls along my spine until it reaches my neck. Apparently uncomfortable there, it burrows itself inward and down, taking shelter in my chest cavity. The last of my body heat scoots over to make room for the shiver, but the shiver is too big, so regretfully the body heat moves away and the last of my remaining patience follows. I'm very annoyed. It is an average kind of night, and I am waiting for an average kind of friend. The kind of friend who is always late and always seems to borrow my coat. What is his problem? Does he not respect me? My time? My stuff? Why am I friends with this person?
In front of me, a bicyclist clipping along the neighboring street drops his front wheel into the train tracks. Tire exploding like an over stuffed taco, he launches over the handlebars headfirst into traffic and certain death. By luck or gymnastic knowhow, he completes the flip nearly landing on his feet, and oncoming cars swerve leaving the overturned rider seemingly unharmed. I watched him shake off the fall, collect the remains of his bike, and walk around a corner out of sight. I watched how quickly horrified bystanders replaced their shock with smiles and conversations. I watched how the world carried on with indifference to the event. I started thinking about death and wondered what I would have felt if the rider had been killed. What if I would have known the rider? What if the rider would have been my friend, riding fast and carelessly because he was running late and did not want me to be cold?
I pondered what would I say at my friend's funeral, and after laughing at the thought of declaring, "He was a careless biking, time disrespecting, no good coat thief!" I settled into a more honest thought process. Of course I would not highlight negative attributes, I would focus on all of his wonderful qualities, what drew me towards him, and what kept me waiting for him on a chilly night. I began thinking about all of my friends in this fashion and noticed how my perspective shifted as I realized all of my friends were dying. "What would I say at their funeral" became a mantra for thinking about people close to me. It was interesting how thinking about a friend's death -- how I would describe them, their impact on me, and their contributions to the world -- filled me with nostalgia and joy.
Snapping out of my brain dive as my friend arrived, I greeted him happily with a hug. I was glad to be with him on this not so average night. "Sorry I'm late man, I totally forgot your jacket!" he exclaimed. I knew he did not mean it but that was okay. This was just a part of who he was, and with friends we must appreciate the good and accept the not so good. Enjoying my temporary positive outlook on life, I hopped upon the embarcadero wall for a playful walk along the balance beam. Forgetting it's sliminess, I careened towards the water and the jagged remains of destroyed piers tens of feet below. A warm hand clenched my arm, pulling me back to safety by my elbow. "Dude, you always do that stuff. It is so annoying!"
Perspective is a funny, fleeting thing, and the lens in which we view our world is ever changing. Often we stumble upon a perspective we like -- a perspective of playfulness, appreciation, or positivity -- and it transforms our whole world for a few moments. We rarely notice it leave, replaced by a perspective we do not like -- a perspective of apathy, disgust, or negativity -- which alters our world for the worse. Awareness is how we hold on to what we like.
You are dying, too. How will your friends remember you?