Death Touched Down
Death touched down. It’s always around us, but sometimes it comes so very close, alights on a nearby perch, and with its beady eye reminds us that it’s always just a whisper away.
It’s not an ominous warning of things to come, but rather a reminder that it is already here and moving among us, taking lives seemingly at random. Lives so young and luminous that we felt their sudden absence like an atom bomb sweeping over and beyond our tiny valley.
Vanessa. Lucienne. Desmond.
I know their family. We all know their family. In a place so small, the circles with which our lives overlap is never ending. I understand now just how interwoven is our community. How it is possible to share with someone, I only barely knew, multiple identities, and cross-over friendships, and overlapping circles of personal and professional relationships.
I only met Vanessa a few times, but she left an impression that I’m certain wasn’t a singular experience to me. When I call up her memory, she appears to me as a beaming smile. Joyful light. An easy laugh.
I remember on each occasion she effortlessly lifted the energy in the room. She was candid and fun. She had a song in her voice; she was full of contagious energy. Vanessa and her babies healed those around them just by being near, and the absence of that has been so deeply and profoundly felt in the days since we lost them.
And so we are left with the heavy task of mourning, and trying with two left hands to mend each other up. Trying to simultaneously remember and also find a moment of reprieve to forget, if only for a moment, that they are no longer among us.
And this guts me again and again. They are no longer among us. It makes me want to rip my clothes at the injustice of that reality. It makes me want to bargain with the heavens. It gives me the most unholy thoughts about those who could have been taken instead, and who would not have been missed.
And why does this matter so much to me, or any of us that barely touched the coattails of her life? Why does it consume every conversation at the store, at school drop off, at the business mixer where why we are there matters less than connecting on what we have lost?
Because, for as much as we might have been different, Vanessa’s life reminds us of just how much we are the same. How much we are connected. Or more accurately, how much we are recognizable in the outlines of each other’s lives. In her, we see ourselves.
I have felt this loss - of a beautiful young mother and her sweet babies - more profoundly than I ever could have imagined, and so many have expressed the same. Their deaths touched the core of our worst fears and crystallized the notion that none of us are untouchable.
Life slowed down these last few weeks. We've cried at our kitchen sinks, under bedcovers, behind our sunglasses, in groups, alone. We cried over the precious, sleeping bodies of our spouses and our children, and begged the heavens not to take them, too. We prayed to whatever was out there listening - death alighting, or a band of merciful angels - to not allow death to pass this way tonight. Please, please do not pass this way tonight.
Embedded in the lining of those prayers, and on the tips of our stricken tongues we dared to ask, Why? Why them? Why now? Why us? The silence on the other end of the line is deafening. There is no answer. An explanation is not a mercy we will enjoy.
And one thing keeps coming back to me in that silence - the meaning in all of this is really up to us. The hope for the future is really ours to lose, or find. We decide. Death will alight, and take again, but that doesn’t mean it gets to win. It doesn’t get the last word among the living.
So all I can think to do now is stand with my palms to the universe and surrender to its will. Surrender to the force that I trust is always striving to keep itself righted. A force that doesn’t take without also giving back. A force that we can access and allow to birth beauty and healing out of tragedy. But only if we decide, that in that silence, there simply can be no other answer.