30 votes

Is is possible to mourn someone you didn't even know?

When I was in high school, I toured Boneyard Studios, a tiny house collective in the DC metro region. I met a man named Jay Austin, who built a tiny house by himself. He showed me his home, and I thought it was damn near one of the coolest things. Jay, despite being a bit older than I, had some of the same sensibilities as I did, I think. He and his girlfriend Lauren started an awesome round the world cycling trip and documented it in their blog Simply Cycling. Reading his words, I really do see myself in Jay, although I only ever met him once and he likely didn't even remember me afterwards.

One of the things Jay wrote was as follows:

You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.

I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.

This amazing perspective is something I wish I was able to write myself. Because I truly believe it. Jay Austin is a man who I would look forward to seeing where his life takes him. I wish I could buy him a coffee and discuss the adventures he has had. The adventures that inspire me to think about where I want my life to take me.

Lauren, Jay, and several other cyclists were killed last Summer by several Tajikistani men who pledged allegiance to ISIS. I cried when I heard. And I didn't even know why. I felt as if Jay was a man not unlike myself. I find myself crying because, even though Jay comes from a totally different background than I, our shared values make me feel like we come from the same place. I feel like I lost someone closer to me than I really did. And even now, months later, I find myself, a grown adult man who really doesn't cry for any reason, crying again, as I write this post.

I really wish I believed in an afterlife. I wish I could shake Jay Austin's hand and tell him he is one of my role models. But I never will be able to. And in all honesty, I don't even know if I should be allowed to mourn someone I have hardly met, let alone how to go about it. So I guess I wrote this post.

I just wanted the world to know how much of a light, at least in my life, Jay Austin, a man I met only once, really was.

8 comments

  1. [2]
    Algernon_Asimov Link
    Of course it's possible to mourn someone you didn't even know - you did it, didn't you? Ergo, it is possible. QED! Mourning isn't restricted to people you know. It's about loss of any kind. You...

    Of course it's possible to mourn someone you didn't even know - you did it, didn't you? Ergo, it is possible. QED!

    Mourning isn't restricted to people you know. It's about loss of any kind. You lost a role model. That might not be as important as losing a family member, but it's still a loss. And you're allowed to mourn him.

    16 votes
    1. Brock_Knifemann Link Parent
      So very true, at least for me. I've been feeling really, really sad about climate change. I've come to recognize that I'm mourning the environment as I knew it.

      Mourning isn't restricted to people you know. It's about loss of any kind.

      So very true, at least for me. I've been feeling really, really sad about climate change. I've come to recognize that I'm mourning the environment as I knew it.

      1 vote
  2. [2]
    mftrhu Link
    Yes and no? I mourned when Terry Pratchett died, but I can't say I mourned for him as much as the world he created and the stories he wrote. That is, I wasn't mourning Terry-the-person, who I...

    Yes and no?

    I mourned when Terry Pratchett died, but I can't say I mourned for him as much as the world he created and the stories he wrote. That is, I wasn't mourning Terry-the-person, who I never interacted with and who I could not possibly know, as much as Terry-the-creator and Terry,-the-one-who-wrote-the-books-that-kept-me-company-when-I-was-at-my-lowest-point.

    5 votes
    1. Nmg Link Parent
      There is a good point here. I didn't know this person personally. I suppose, by seeing myself in him, I feel like his death symbolizes my own. That even if I was as adventurous as he, I could...

      There is a good point here. I didn't know this person personally. I suppose, by seeing myself in him, I feel like his death symbolizes my own. That even if I was as adventurous as he, I could still be run over in some remote part of the world and be a victim of senseless violence. My sense of how the world should work tells me that Jay should have been fine. He should have continued his trip and completed his trip cycling around the globe. Yet the world isn't fair, and it never was, and I just don't know who to blame.

      5 votes
  3. euphoria066 Link
    About 10 years ago now, I broke up with a boyfriend who I had been with for about 5 years. We lived together, and we were both in the age where you're finishing college and deciding what you're...

    About 10 years ago now, I broke up with a boyfriend who I had been with for about 5 years. We lived together, and we were both in the age where you're finishing college and deciding what you're going to do with your life. We were planning to get married, have kids, move back to our hometown, buy a house, get a dog, etc etc. We had picked out names for our kids and schools and all the things you do when you're imagining things.

    When we broke up, I mourned the end of our relationship, but I also spent just a lot of time mourning the loss of these imaginary kids who never existed and never will exist. So, that's pretty weird, but you can mourn anything that is a loss, and you should, because it's healthy!

    5 votes
  4. Stagen Link
    I definitely do. I've gone through mourning for each and every great performer and public figure that I idolise in one way or another. People like Robin Williams, Stephen Hawking and even Linking...

    I definitely do. I've gone through mourning for each and every great performer and public figure that I idolise in one way or another. People like Robin Williams, Stephen Hawking and even Linking Park's Chester Bennington have all had monumental impact on thousands of peoples lives. They deserve our respect and our mourning in their passing.

    1 vote
  5. JakeTheDog Link
    Oh yes for sure, I still to this day mourn the loss of my great heros like Carl Sagan, Alexander Shulgin and so on. I don't know if it's for them as a person, maybe at least partially because...

    Oh yes for sure, I still to this day mourn the loss of my great heros like Carl Sagan, Alexander Shulgin and so on. I don't know if it's for them as a person, maybe at least partially because these people also seemed like beautiful humans, but definitely for their absence of existence.

    On the flip side, my grandmother died last summer. I live on a different continent and have only spent about 8 months of my entire life with her, mainly before the age of 14 (I'm in my late 20's now), so I didn't really know who she was and to be honest, I felt nothing when she died, beyond what I felt for my mother who lost her mother.

    Mourning is context-dependent but always valid.

    1 vote
  6. NeonHippy Link
    My brother often mourns celebrities he admires. Prince was his absolute favorite, and it took more than a year before he could really enjoy the artist's music again. The deaths of people I don't...

    My brother often mourns celebrities he admires. Prince was his absolute favorite, and it took more than a year before he could really enjoy the artist's music again.

    The deaths of people I don't know simply don't touch me in the same way. I'm sorry that they're dead, but we have all got to travel that road eventually.

    1 vote