I lost a friend during the New York City blackout. We were not especially close – the last I’d seen of her was a year ago, as she walked off into the night after an evening’s reunion on the rue Roger Verlomme. But her death by her own hand hit me harder than I would have imagined, perhaps because she was one of the most vivacious women of my acquaintance.
A pretty redhead with laughing, mischievous eyes, she was always strikingly alive. I met her at a Thanksgiving dinner when I was in college – she was several years younger, but traveled up to pay a visit a few months later, in the spring. We went out every now and then, and stayed in contact over the years thanks to some mutual friends.
Strange, to think that of the six people at dinner that night, three of them are now dead.
My friend graduated from photography school in New York, and, like many artists, plunged into a libertine lifestyle with more than a little enthusiasm. She was the only woman I ever knew who considered bodypaint to be a suitable Halloween outfit, and one of her favorite self-portraits was a picture of her holding an old rifle, wearing a 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots … and nothing else. No one who met her was likely to forget her.
If I had to choose one adjective that best described her, it would be adventurous – she was, in every sense of the word. She lived for pleasure, with such exuberance and charm it was almost impossible not to be swept up in her wake. But pleasure is like a drug. The more you indulge, the more you require, until ultimately even the most dedicated hedonist begins to learn that pleasure and happiness are not one and the same.
I abandoned my single-minded pursuit of pleasure when I became a Christian. I can’t say I never had any regrets or harbored any doubts about my decision, but on the whole, I’ve been surprised to find that trying to walk the harder path in pursuit of a higher purpose has proven to be more personally rewarding and more satisfying than I would have imagined.
I told my friend of my new faith a few years ago. She was accepting of this, of course, as she was of everything, but made it clear that she was uninterested in such ethereal things as offered little in the way of immediate excitement or amusement. She had other things on her mind, such as a wedding and starting a glamorous new chapter of her life in Paris.
I don’t know if her vivacity was a desperate attempt to escape a shadow that had long oppressed her, or if the shadow crept slowly upon her over time. She wasn’t the kind of person with whom you had that sort of conversation, and even in retrospect, even when I look for it, I can see little hint of darkness in her eyes or in her smile.
She died, as she lived, on her own terms. I admire her for that, even as I mourn her decision, because there is a certain cold logic in its remorseless nihilism. If not only our faith, but our hope, is in Jesus Christ, then we cannot be surprised or dismayed to know that those who deny Him and focus their eyes solely on the evil of the fallen world that surrounds us will sometimes feel overwhelmed.
If you will indulge me, I should like to say to you what I wish I had known to say to her. The shadow is an illusion. It is like the pleasure – it passes, it waxes and wanes with time. Only that which you consider to be fairytales is the reality, it is that hope that is the truth, and only through that blinding light can the shadow be entirely banished. And if you feel that you must give in, that you are no longer strong enough to stand on your own, then surrender to the light, not to the darkness.
I will miss my friend. The world is a less vivid place for her loss. She was a brightly burning candle, extinguished far too soon by the weight of her own shadow.