I think about these a lot.
My dad – and Horace Walpole – used to say: “Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think.”
On one hand think-laugh, on the other feel-grieve.
Bugsy right and left.
If only life, loss, were that simple.
I was running errands the other day when I came on the scene of an accident. A young man on a motorcycle had rear-ended a car waiting to turn left, was thrown into the right-hand lane, was struck by another car, and died.
Police routed us drivers-by through a retirement complex. Filing past old age on the one hand, and sudden early death on the other.
I spotted the young man’s naked arm, outstretched from under his shroud. Pink and plump, palm up, fingers gently curved. Suppliant to the heavens, on the cold dark pavement.
Might this not be enough to cause us pause in the running of errands? To be silent for a moment of memento mori? To think, to feel, to do both?
The on-line news-media carried a video showing the young man’s helmet and one shoe lying in the wreckage.
In the comment section, a person – I’ll assume she’s a woman – wrote about how she had held the young man’s hand as he died. How she had clung to his helmet, as if that would help him hold onto life too.
Then she slid sideways into a rant about how the video had shown the helmet and one of the young man’s shoes lying in a different place from where she recalled them. She wrote: “Was it necessary to embellish an already heart aching incident? How can the media justify doing this? I realize it’s a small thing, but to me there was no need to photograph this, when it is completely unreal and untrue.”
Whereupon internet trolls commenced to argue amongst themselves. None of whom paused to consider that the first-responders, in trying to save a life, might have had to rearrange the scene a little.
A news-photographer commented that he “felt it his duty” to inform us that “ALL news photos are staged or posed.” Another writer recalled losing a loved one to a car accident, grieved that the media never contacted the family, and concluded that the media are simply callous. Another writer, oppositely, complained about the saturation coverage of another accident. Another writer took issue with peoples’ “reading comprehension” of the first writer’s post.
A few sensitive souls begged to differ. “Obviously the first commenter is experiencing trauma and people need to be gentle. We should be focused on the loss of life and those left behind to suffer. Not debating whose reading comprehension needs work.” “Arguing over shoe placement is stupid.” “Why do you cruel people like to argue! The young man is dead, OK! This is not an argument about who’s right and wrong!”
Finally, weeks later, a letter was published from another witness. This writer mourned the death of a stepdaughter who had been killed by a drunk driver. But when the writer observed the care the first-responders lavished on the young man here, that person felt a healing. “When I saw how he was protected not only physically but spiritually by our public servants, I am humbled. I visualized these same people standing guard over my dear Margaret, when she could not stand for herself.”
So. We are a complex species.
We feel when we can bear it and, when we can’t, we slide sideways into strife and irrelevancy. Or into a pain that’s relevant to other matters, but not to the one at hand.
* * *
Yesterday we got buried in another huge ice-storm. This morning, gazing out over a frigid spangled beauty, I grinned at Bongo, an ill-tempered little Schnauzer, as he scooted briskly along high on several inches of snow, never once breaking through the icy crust. With my hand on Bugsy’s sun-warmed back, I thought about all this.
I remembered standing guard over my last cat Fang, as life left him. I thought about how, for me, this enormous love I feel for my cats also marinates me in fear of loss, of grief.
How uncomfortable this acute vulnerability makes me. Please don’t tell me that the joy makes it all worthwhile. I am also terrified.
* * *
I would like to be, with all this, like my dear friend in Michigan. My friend has been a companion for many years to now-elder Ivy, a chocolate Lab. Ivy is grappling with several illnesses. My friend has exerted herself to the utmost in researching treatment options and possible prognoses. She and Ivy are facing a great deal of uncertainty.
Ivy and her bud Stewie. Art by heretherebespiders.
My friend says, purely and simply, that she wants to cherish every minute they have left together. She tells me of trips to the lake, so Ivy can dip in even though walking on the rocks is hard for her now. Special treats (need we say more, about Labs’s gastronomic gusto!).
I find my friend’s devotion to be simple and beautiful, a peaceful acceptance of what’s true.
I wish, for all of us, that we may enjoy that simplicity, that beauty. I think, I feel, that simplicity and beauty are essential antidotes to that which is also absolutely true: That none of us is here together forever.
Sometimes I fight this harsh reality so mightily, I wear myself out. I know that fighting it is exhausting and futile and is not really the optimum way to approach this pain. I envy my friend’s passionate presence, in simplicity and beauty.