By Loretta Iwaniw-Horne
PROMPT—I am grateful for ...
I have lost a lot of friends abruptly. I've seen them in news feeds, missing pieces of their faces and torsos. I've seen them convulsing as their bodies fought against their inevitable demise, their last moments filmed by sympathetic onlookers determined to humanize the tragedy. War is a truly devastating thing. The wounds that it inflicts are not limited to those who bear them physically. War can hurt us, even if we are thousands of kilometers away. And the wounds that the war bestows do not simply go away. They remain with us for life as mental scars.
One of my friends died last year, another victim of war, like so many before him. When I heard about his death, I didn't believe it at first; he was always alright before that terrible moment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes he disappeared offline for hours, days, even a week at a time. He always eventually came back again, though. At least, I thought that he would always come back.
I assumed that I would see him again in person, away from the perilous country he returned to when Covid crippled the world. To be told that he was dead and already buried was to fall instantly into a kind of cognitive dissonance – how could he be dead when he was supposed to be alive? It felt unreal that someone so vibrant, so full of life, was suddenly no longer a person, but was instead a corpse slowly disintegrating in the earth. It seemed inconceivable and unfair that he would never escape the war, that he would never smile again, or view the mountains that he loved so much.
A strange thing happens when we lose a person that we adore, however. We begin to take inventory of those other people in our lives. We notice them in ways that we never did before; their value becomes apparent to us. We cease taking people for granted upon accepting that life is finite. We also cease stalling our own lives, because we realize that we might be the next to suddenly stop existing, that if we don't grab hold of life now, it could slip away from us un-lived.
Death can overpower us with its terrifying blackness, or it can illuminate all the wonderful things and people that we fortunately still have with us. Sometimes, it is not until we lose someone very dear to us that we are able to clearly see how much those things, places, and people who remain matter to us, and for that I am infinitely grateful. I am grateful that I can see the mountains, that I can feel the sun upon my skin, that I can write, that I can, in short, live. I am grateful just to still be.
Loretta Iwaniw-Horne is a freelance journalist and essayist. Her professional work is predominantly centered around Afghanistan, which she monitored prior to the fall of Kabul. Loretta writes from Mulwala, New South Wales, Australia.