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Aug 19, 2017

A non-eulogy for Dima

On Friday, my former colleague and friend Dmitry (Dima) Semenov died in a car crash in Thailand. He was 31, an accomplished scholar and leader, and one of the kindest and smartest people I know.

Eulogies mean to offer lessons from the person’s life, as if it was a story told to us. That is difficult; or rather, I am not good at it. People live their lives without trying to teach us anything. Instead, what I do is to remember one or two particular pictures about the person who passed away. They have no larger meaning and are not parables; those are simply symbols that indicate where other memories are stored. For example, my father’s symbol us when we walk together to get some milkshake in the neighborhood store; I am about five. Here is my grandfather teaching me how to split firewood. There is no way to reduce the entire person to one or two flashbacks, and yet having them helps.

I remember we were sitting down to eat at Yura’s and Tanya’s home in Sokolniki. I think it was their son’s Lenya’s birthday. Dima was his godfather, Svetlana is the godmother. It is sunny and very quiet. Dima smiles like Buddha, and says, “About this time on Sunday, it is exactly the right time to have a bit of vodka.” We all oblige, and that is my little token of Dima.

Why do we all feel the need to remember those who die? I am sure anthropologists have all kinds of theories about it. But we do, that is for sure. Death has a way of reminding us about itself. Mortality is a strange gift we received from the creator, according to Tolkien. It was his way of unbinding us from the physical world. Elves, more beautiful and immortal, did not receive it. Perhaps, but it is still a bloody terrifying gift. This is why we want to send the messages to those who cannot receive, as if to say, “you’re not all gone.”

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