It is amazing how quickly something exquisite and beautiful can disappear right before your eyes. Here is the morning sky at 4:56, and again at 5:00am.
I have been feeling strangely melancholic in unexpected moments lately. This abruptly snuffed out sunrise glow somehow brought my musings to the forefront of my mind. There is so much that we cherish that will inevitably disappear - children grow, graduate, go off into the world. People grow old and they die. Homes are sold and families move away, beautiful land is developed. Sometimes, though, things disappear in a flash, out of the expected sequence of events. Fire, flood, earthquake, storm, accident. Sadly, these losses are also inevitable. We just never know where they will strike.
Every spring, it seems, I read a story or two in the paper about an accident that takes the life of a young person. My own daughter and her boyfriend had frightening "near miss" just a few years ago. They left the house, and in what felt like seconds (probably 10 minutes), two of their friends rushed into the kitchen saying my daughter had been in an accident. Car flipped upside down on the roadside, ambulance lights flashing. But - just a bump, a few stitches. Everything was okay (except the car).
Our small high school has seen its share of tragedy in the few years since we have lived here. The stunned silence, the incredulity, the slow dawning of the excruciating reality of life and death, all bring a community to its knees, and bring me back to a tragic event from my own high school days.
A girl in the junior class died in a car crash in the spring of my sophomore year. I barely knew Colleen, but one of her sisters was in my grade, and I sort of knew the boy who was driving the car. It wasn't so much a personal grief, but being dealt that crushing blow of mortality that hit me. I remember how a shroud of somber silence descended upon the whole school campus. Two of Colleen's girlfriends staggered, weeping, into the cafeteria to retrieve Colleen's schoolbooks. She had left them in a careless tumble on a formica tabletop only a few hours earlier. I'll get 'em later. Let's go.
Hundreds of students showed up at Colleen's funeral. What I remember is the irretrievability of loss. The sorrow felt bottomless and hopeless. Then they played this song over the loudspeakers in the church, one of Colleen's favorites. It is called "If", by David Gates from the group, Bread (you can listen to it at the link). It is an emotional song anyway, and in that context it ripped the room into pieces when the last lines wafted over the room, "...then you and I would simply fly away."
To this day that song gives me knots in my stomach and a lump in my throat.
Mine has been a fortunate life. Incidents of tragedy and grief have been few and manageable, with a wide net of support and consolation from a loving and hopeful family. Nevertheless, I seem to hang on to the symptoms of grief.
It is not that I wallow in woe. I guess it is that the experience of grief, even being in its presence, leaves an indelible impression of awe upon my consciousness. I have the deepest respect for the phenomenon that befalls grieving humans (and even other animals). Sorrow, of course. And a far more profound physical affliction, from head to toe. There is something exquisitely noble about human beings in grief. They are so vulnerable. They are like a walking, breathing matrix of emotional scar tissue, tiptoeing so carefully across the days. They offer each other profound respect. They let go of angers and resentments and tensions and deadlines that just don't matter any more. And they carry on - they figure out how.
In the best of scenarios, they seek out what is precious in the world and in themselves and they embrace it, cultivate it, strive to make the most of this ephemeral, fleeting existence that can dissolve away in an instant. Gone. Grief helps people to feel, when maybe they have been forgetting how. Grief reminds us of the temporary nature of our being, which can be a gift for those left behind, if they can find a way to live with it and use its lessons for the better.
If only we could tap into those lessons every day, so many petty problems would be set aside. So much more love and respect would inform our daily doings. We should let grief in once in a while and accept what it has to offer.
It hurts. It heals. It helps.