Reflections on the death of one with whom I fought so much

What happens when a person with whom you fight regularly dies suddenly? Can you erase the hurt feelings and the sleepless nights? Does it all go away? It does not. Where do you put those feelings while you feel suddenly saddened by the loss of a person who you were perpetually angry with?

A while ago, when all the Harfield stuff was happening, there was one person who stood out powerfully whose attacks to my blog post became personal, and I tried not to take it to heart.

Later, that person and I tried to mend bridges, and we started writing a little to one another, trying to see from each others’ viewpoints. Another friend in the neighbourhood – one who had also experienced hurt at his hand (or rather, his keyboard) – invested much of her time in talking to, reasoning & sharing with him. She, that beautiful soul, did develop a friendship with him, though his words to her had been cutting, defensive, sometimes offensive.

He didn’t believe that the things he did or said were wrong. He called it ‘shooting from the hip’ or being ‘rough around the edges’. I told him it was a poor excuse. He didn’t seem to mind my saying that. He never seemed to mind an argument. And this was where we differed, and why he got himself into so much trouble all the time.

I had to consider the comments about him which were so removed from the words he posted online. Comments such as ‘heart of gold’, ‘caring’, ‘genuine’. People loved this man. Why could I not? And I know that he felt their love, which I’m glad of. I was always glad of it, but confused by it all the same.

He was no stranger to tension & controversy. When I first joined the online community of neighbours, he’d recently been reinstated from the page after being banned himself. Apparently troublemaking was his forte. But still, people loved him. Why could I not?

It was not long into our interaction that I saw it. He had a roost to defend. He did it at any cost. And his roost loved him for it, though not all agreed with his methods. He pulled out all the stops. I had hoped he could see that we too were interested in healing the community, not breaking it down. Sometimes, in our calm moments, we caught glimpses of one another’s visions, but they would be fleeting & blurred & a joint vision seemed more far away than ever.

The last thing I said to him was something in anger. I asked him to stop being mean. I asked him to stop all spreading hateful drivel. I told him I was deeply offended. I told him to stop.

And now he has. Forever. My anger has been overshadowed by a deep sorrow. That he and I never did have the opportunity to see eye to eye completely. That we were on that path, but not nearly there yet. That the last thing he wrote & responded to was an attack on a friend. That I never got to know who this man was who was so lovable in person.

A friend had recently met him accidentally in the neighbourhood, having not heard of his reputation online. She came to me & said she’d just met the friendliest man who had shared some fruit from his garden. I asked for his name and I was surprised to hear his. He was joyful, sharing, lovely. A real people’s person.

Why could we not come to an agreement? Why did he fight until the day he died?

What do I do when an enemy dies? I don’t know. He wasn’t my enemy. He was a friend I was trying to make, a neighbour I was trying to understand and a person with a different history from mine who was trying to navigate a changing world. He was often wrong and difficult, but he was true to himself, and he showed kindness to others in his own ways.

A heart-attack. That’s what finally took him. When I heard the news, I didn’t think about our fights or the things which angered me or the many times I’ve wanted to meet him in person & tell him that he has hurt my feelings. Instead, I remember the other e-mail he sent, wanting to try to fix things. And the kind words shared about him by some of my acquaintances who knew him. And the people – even those who I will continue to stand up to and challenge – who are pained by the loss of him.

I’m sorry, Tom, that we had never met in person. That I couldn’t laugh at one of your silly jokes, and that these were the circumstances under which we met ‘met’. If you had been my uncle, perhaps my father, a family friend, I would have been forced to keep quiet & not challenge your words. But I did, and I have learned from you about the world around me, about myself, and about the value of building bridges over tearing one another down. I do hope that some of the things I had to say had a positive impact on you too.

I don’t know if we really could ever have been friends. We tried that once, though through the weak medium of social networking, and we would have argued daily until one of us gave in, or left. I didn’t wish you to leave like this. I didn’t wish you to leave at all. With a little more time, we could have at least shared a few more pleasant moments. I had some kickass crunchies I promised I would make & share with you.

Though he is gone, my feelings about him have not altered. They were always frustration mixed with some admiration, anger with a sprinkling of affection. I suspect that this is how he made many people feel. And I think he should be glad that he was so involved in the space he lived in & shared with others. A man from a different time and place, he was very actively involved in the world around him, and I admire that, though I disagreed with his viewpoints. I’ve also tried to understand him a bit better these past months, particularly his suspicious nature which spoke to a time – a dark and scary time – in our country’s dark and scary past. I’ve known other men just like him, and I’ve cared a great deal for them.

It’s a great sorrow to lose someone who was such a part of our space. Things, from now, will not be quite the same. He will always be remembered. To his family, I express my deep sorrow. His loss will be sorely felt.

Thank you for the fights, for the laughs and for the reflection.

Rest in peace.

– TJ


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