It’s October, 2020, and I feel ancient. I have so many friends.
These have been my friends:
The young Indigenous man who gently undertakes a ceremonial fast in front of a provincial legislature, fighting not the noisy battles of treaties and nation-building, but a quieter battle to support mental health in his community.
The cop whose idea of a perfect day is one spent caring for the community he loves before returning home and being cared for by the family that loves him.
The young reporter who lies violated and charred in a ditch in a faraway country, executed for the crime of investigating corporate malfeasance.
The apprentice mechanic with first aid training who requested two hours off this afternoon to take the town ambulance to a high-school game.
The Sailor First Class who has been deemed emotionally unfit for service and discharged for having the temerity to report her own rape by a senior officer.
So many friends. They blur together with the passage of time. How did I meet them? Did they turn up in the bar one night, like the cute little babe with the nice boobs and the red hair? Or – wait a minute – maybe that one turned up on page 312 of my second novel. Or maybe not. I think she was in the second chapter of the first book. If it’s her, she was more blond than red, but whatever.
Never mind. They are all my friends. Well, maybe not all of them. Some of them were downright evil, no friends of mine. Killers, thieves, misogynists. Nobody would call them friends, not even I. But, after all, I am a writer and I need friends, so I’ll just write about them differently: soldiers, politicians, priests! There, that’s better. So many friends.
Do you remember the old guy at the garage, the one who could fix anything as long as it didn’t have a computer in it? I do. And I remember his wife, too… the one with the sad eyes. They didn’t have kids, but there were rumours that long ago they had a daughter. There had to have been a story there, but I never did find out. Or maybe I ran out of space. So many friends.
In 1637, or maybe it was 1644, French philosopher René Descartes wrote I think, therefore I am. (Latin scholars amongst us will have first heard it as Cogito Ergo Sum, but it means about the same thing in English.) Actually, Descartes was French, so at first he actually wrote, je pense, donc je suis but in the interest of maintaining a snooty sense of clarity it is most often quoted in Latin. Really.
In any case, for me it is a piece of crap wrapped up in a pretty language, apparently for the sole purpose of reinforcing a false distinction between different classes in society… between all my friends, in fact. Hell, horses think. Even cows think, only slower. Not even counting the four-legged ones, all my friends think. But the thing that makes them unique is how they feel. How they feel makes them who they are. Indeed, some of my friends may not even think as well as the dumbest of cows, but they all feel, and therefore they are.
These have been my friends:
The coastguard officer who retired early to start his own business at a village in cottage country.
The brilliant young biologist who is passionate about birds and wild places, wrestling with greedy politicians and bureaucrats in an effort to measure the harm human beings inflict on our tiny globe.
The oilfield truck driver with a somewhat warped sense of justice but a heart of gold.
The elderly lady who took a young man to bed one night, sharing wisdom and comfort.
It’s still October 2020, but now I feel even older as I realize that some of my friends may have physically moved on, even as they linger in my soul, or on my pages, or both.
I feel them close, therefore they exist.