When I was nine, my father, against my will, cut off my long hair. With profound melodrama, I swore never to cut it again. This was a serious thing; it even survived my discovery of that terrible passage in Corinthians when I was thirteen.
That's why, at sixteen, my hair was down to my waist. I had promised myself not to commit suicide, but something had to change, so I hacked it off with my sewing scissors, coiling it in my hands and hiding it away like a keepsake. Then I sat through night prayers, breakfast, and morning prayers, before--after scripture study--my sister said, "is your hair pulled back?"
I still think that is the worst kind of loneliness; to be trapped in a room with people who should see you, but can't.
I thought of this during the keynote on Friday, called "what we owe the dead." He suggested that, contrary to Freud, we can never finish the work of mourning--contrary to Heidegger, we can truly mourn for each other, not just for reflections of our own future. We are composed, in part, of each other; when one of us dies, the rest loose a part of ourselves. The rest of us, then, must process the grotesque affront of life going on after death--after the death of a part of ourselves, after the death of someone we cared for.
In typical egocentric fashion I am terrified. Not of the death of others, though I worry about that too--but mostly, I'm afraid that when I die there will not be an absence left behind. I'm afraid I'm already gone, passing my life with people who almost never see me.
I don't mean this as a criticism, or an insult to my excellent family and friends; this fear may not be a rational one. Sometimes I feel I'm the only one, like I'm somehow by nature unseeable. Other times I think it must be everyone, that we pass by each other on the street like ghosts, each calmly and politely suppressing a Munch-like scream. Of course it has to be something else, neither of those extremes--but it is not a stretch to say that we would see each other better, in a better world.