Loss and imagination

Imagination can be a terrible and a wonderful thing.

I had a phone call this morning from an old and dear friend. His father has died, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was clearly overwhelmed with shock and grief.

After we finished talking I found myself feeling stunned as well. I’d met the Reverend Alexander on numerous occasions in my late teens and early twenties, staying over at his house while his son and I went out drinking. Witnesses tell me that I once vomited all over the vicarage kitchen floor right in front of him, and I can reliably report that, rather than ban me from the house for that incident, he subjected me to the mockery I rightly deserved, or at least what little of it I could stand.

But my own state of bewilderment at the news of his passing went beyond sorrow for the death of a man I haven’t seen in ten years. Because part of my brain was trying to imagine what my friend is going through right now, how I would cope in those same circumstances. Just approaching the thought of losing my own dad is horrible, but that’s what my imagination is doing.

And this is where the imagination becomes both terrible and wonderful. It puts us through the worst of things, but it does so with purpose, helping us to understand what others are going through, preparing us for what we may one day face.

It’s also through imagination that the people we lose live on. We can summon them up in our minds, reconstruct memories of life with them. It’s a bitter-sweet sort of remembering, but it’s far better than none at all.

To imagine is not just to make pretend. It is to be human, to relate to others and to our past selves. It is to create bonds that mere action cannot, to understand ourselves and the world more fully. And that, as I said at the start, can be a terrible and a wonderful thing.