Threnody: Jos / 14 November 1999

I’ve got the platitudes and the cliches. Those are the things we’ve been hardwired to say, right? When your mind is blank with shock, nothing comes except the empty phrases handed down by movies and greeting cards, and here, now, they’re coming fast and furious. And so I do my usual: a bombardment of words, trying to plug the holes, trying to blind and deafen.

Unwieldy, overlong. If there’s such a thing as stumbling grace, then he had it. The clothing, the body inside — a patchwork containing way, way too much.

A giant moving into the room. Day One: There was no doubt he was there. People thought his name was a typo for mine. Insta-nickname, he hadda million of em. More hand jewelry than I was accustomed to. A collision of colors you didn’t see on a regular basis. He shaved his head pretty early on and his overfull cranium looked mighty fine. Spoke from the diaphragm, projected loud and clear, oh yeah. Made me uncomfortable because I’m always threatened by people who are comfortable. With themselves, with strangers. Me, I shirk. But he was a giant moving into the room, taking it all in with a verve and good-naturedness that I’ve never seen before or since. I mean, these were cubicle walls and these were tangles of black cords and these were menial tasks, but he consumed it all with that grin. He saw the inner workings, he saw us, he saw the dynamics both hard and soft, like within a matter of minutes.

Some people, most people, people who are that smart and that quick, get disillusioned real fast. Get cynical. Being able to instantly understand interconnections can be inspiring, but most people are overwhelmed by it, and disappointed with the eventual results. But he pulled possibilities out of that understanding. One after another, and that alone is unbelievable. But to act upon those possibilities? To explore them, to invest oneself in them, to gather people together within them? Unheard of. And he did it every single goddamn day.

I can’t help but want to tear things apart, bring them down, set them on fire, whatever. But he taught me about the value of putting things back together, building them up, assembling them into something bigger and better. It was the process, the idea.

The pure joy of the idea.

And he had to be so funny, too. Ridiculous.

Baby, you were one of the good ones. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. I can’t help but think bad thoughts, think about all the millions of people that it should’ve been instead of you. But just knowing that such an ugly thought would’ve never even occurred to you, not even for a second — well, that makes it tolerable. That points me in the right direction. That unlocks a little bit of me, something you managed to do without even knowing it. Something you’ll continue to do.

There was just too much of you, I guess.

Please visit The Life of Jos Claerbout.

Joshua Green Allen

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