October 10, 2014

Like a Handful of Sand

Why does life have to feel like a handful of sand, something so hard to hold onto, always slipping through my fingers. Another day gone.

A week ago tomorrow a young man who graduated high school with my daughter last year was killed in a hiking accident. Nineteen years, now a life story is complete. He was charming, talented, well-loved. I barely knew him, but I am not ready for his story to be over.

Or mine. Are we ever? When I was sick and could better imagine my own death, I was as peaceful as you please. That was a great surprise to me. I sat and sat and I never felt worried or scared. I could imagine a world without me and I knew all would be well. Yet this world without this young man, so recently vibrant with life, now dead -- I am struggling to imagine the world without him. Mostly I saw this young man on stage. He was a scene-stealer, funny, unforgettable. The memories aren't enough. I want more.

Years and years ago a dear friend's father died from AIDS. She said, after he died, "I can't imagine a world without my father in it." When, half a decade on, my mother died, I knew what she meant. When my mother was sick I would lie in bed and make-believe that she was sitting on her couch watching T.V. instead of lying in a hospital bed. It helped, even though it was a flagrant denial of reality.

I want to be able both to face reality and get through the day without crawling back under the covers or eating myself sick. How is that possible on a day when we gather to mourn the death of a nineteen year old?

The kids who knew him have organized a vigil at a neighborhood park. They want balloons and music and turquoise and mint-green and rhinestones. They want to celebrate life. I have to go. I need their hope. I want my 11 year old to see how a community can come together in the face of tragedy and sorrow and weep and mourn and hope. I want to see it myself. This grief is isolating. It needs the balm of company.

I have tried to find comfort in acknowledging how many, many communities have buried their nineteen year old sons, their lives surrendered to violence or sickness or ill fate. But it is exactly the particularity of knowing this One that makes the loss so heart-rending. This face, this voice, the expectations that attached to this life.

And so, as all roads of truth do, this one leads inexorably back to love. I knew this young man just enough to love him. I know many people who knew him better and loved him better. Heartbreak is the price we pay for loving, and the price is steep.

What else can we do? Stop loving? No. We might as well stop living. That is, I think, the choice. Choose death or life. To choose life we have to keep loving and risk all the suffering that is bound to attend the love. Does Brittany Maynard really want to die, or are she and her family just so afraid of all the suffering that comes with loving even as she's dying?

The truth is we're all loving and suffering and dying all the time, every day. We can choose to pick a date and find a doctor to prescribe a pill and make an end of it. But we may very well miss the balloons and the music and the rhinestones.

[Note: If you have not read this piece by Kara Tippetts, do. She is a 36 year old mother of four from Colorado Springs who is dying of cancer. Her blog is a heartbreaking account of what it looks like to live -- and die -- with great love.]

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