I walk to the end of the hall. The floor is empty, people have gone home for the day. Through a window, I can see the spring sunset illuminating the rows of buildings standing guard over the green carpet of Central Park. It is an awesome display. They are the world, a massive line-up of beautiful solidity, majestic indifference, filled with invisible people making love, having fights, watching TV. A dark spot, the shadow of a cloud, passes over the soft green tufts of trees. Off to the left I see the hospital I’ll be visiting tomorrow. In the distance, the George Washington Bridge connects this hyperactive island to the rest of the planet.
I think of my father, and the other people I’ve known who have died. They are memories to a handful. The world, serenely and implacably, has moved on. The buildings show their blind faces to today’s setting sun. Tomorrow the rains will wash them clean for the next day’s sun whose memory will be washed away by the rain of the day thereafter and history will continue to unfold, unaffected, as if those lives had never happened.
Now, as I look out through the window and see in their fate my own, I am stunned. I am dizzied by the beauty of the scene before me and how it reflects the fragility of my own life. A deep loneliness overcomes me as my body fully absorbs the simple, unavoidable notion that one day this scene will be when I am not.
Then, as unexpectedly as it appeared, my lonely panic transforms itself. I feel calm. The dispensability I share with the rest of humanity is reassuring. The realization of my mortality has somehow strengthened me: there is simply nothing I can do about it. However I die, or when, the world outside this window and the infinite masses of things and people beyond my vision will go on just as they do now, inexorably, indifferently. My father finally settles in his grave.
As the sun sets, I bask in the light of a stark truth: my efforts to place the ticket, or, on a grander scale, to leave my mark upon the world, will one day be as comically irrelevant and as fleeting as ghosts on a television screen.
Comforted by that image, shielded by it, I go down to the nighttime streets, off to the play, alone.
Fred Wistow lives in New York City. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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On the verge of our 30th anniversary, we’re introducing a new feature highlighting classic Networker articles that have stood the test of time. First published in 1986, Fred Wistow’s haunting “Goodbye” exquisitely captures the raw intensity with which loss forces us to confront our own mortality.