I heard the news this morning. And I only learned of his passing because I opted to walk to the LIRR. Earl was a can collector—he spent sleepless nights following his wife's death collecting cans, spending the pocket change he received for his efforts on a cup of coffee, but really he was looking for a means of staving off loneliness. Earl was a part of my community. He was someone I looked for on early mornings—a signal that I had made it to a "safer" zone on my morning walk to the commuter rail. (My neighborhood is relatively safe and quiet, but there's a zone of moderate to heavy commercial activity that can at times make anyone a little anxious about personal safety.) He generally had a smile and a wave for me when we our paths crossed, and though we saw each other infrequently, I generally had a sense that he was a part of my routine. A fixture if you will allow it: I knew he'd be there, in the supermarket parking lot most mornings unless he was unwell, either unpacking his cans or walking the lot with his hands in his pockets waiting for the depository to open. His passing has sent ripples through my sense of my network, but I am also aware of how quietly and how quickly those ripples smooth themselves away and how the network, how my sense of community, works to resettle itself around his absence.
|Bateson feeding on algae earlier this year.|
I am not trying to equate the death of a man with the death of a shrimp, but with news of Earl's passing, the empty ecosphere on my desk seems especially lonely. Networks are imbued with lives and a resiliency of their own. When death removes a member, the network sews together the hole left by the departed. The network is reknitted and life continues. But in my empty ecosphere, where the algae is poised to claim the small globe, there is no reknitting. Things are forever changed. The algae will now fill the space vacated by Bateson, and a new balance and order will be established. And it is a reminder that a loss to one's community, even if that community attempts to patch itself together, leaves a mark.