In college, I wrote a short story one time about a road trip I took by myself. On the Road had always been a favorite, and when plans fell through with everyone else for a trip we'd planned, I decided to just go solo. I ended my travel story (of course) with a bit of cliched enlightenment:
"... after a few states and many miles, here's what you come to figure out: people are just people. Some live close to the freeways in dustier and smaller houses, and some live in big, lonely ones that can only be found while exasperatedly lost in the suburbs. But there's a vein that runs through all of us, whether we dare to admit it or not, and the blood that's pumping in it is our commonality. We're more alike than we are different. For a lot of us, that's scarier than the thought of being isolated. Because to admit that we're all just people is to dive into a place where others understand and have felt our own vulnerability, and where we can share little delights (like traveling to a new place) and make those damn emotional investments that our paranoia tells us are the next heartbreaks. We can't view all of life as simply as we see the houses from the freeway, but we can step back and take solace in the fact that no matter our differences, people are still just people."
It's true, isn't it? How often have you met someone famous and walked away thinking about how surprisingly normal they were? I have to remind myself of that all the time, because somehow just because a person is legendary or well-known doesn't mean they don't struggle with all the things the rest of us struggle with. No matter who you are, life is good, and life is hard.
If you life here locally, you probably saw on the news about Erika Clouet dieing in a car wreck on Labor Day. Erika was a teacher at my school. She was a newly-wed July bride, and she was 24 years old. I didn't know her well at all, and in the 2 years I knew her we probably talked a couple dozen times. But I will say that she was one of those people that you think about being a genuinely nice person. The wedding picture they keep posting in the news is one she never saw; her wedding pictures arrived the day after she and her husband were hit and killed by a drunk driver. This was the driver's fifth DUI. I don't really know if her death is any more or less tragic than the other young people I've known whose lives were taken by cancer, but it's really not the point. I just know this: Life is hard.
You've probably seen that Leroy Sievers died, too. It's a terrible loss. It's all so terrible I can hardly stand it sometimes. I try not to think it's unfair or it shouldn't be this way, but over the couple of years that I read his blog, I felt I had come to really know him, and his dieing left a surprisingly sharp pain. He made a conscious effort to be very open and honest about his feelings on his blog I guess it's no surprise that so many people have expressed feeling this way. Through his journalism he had covered 14 different wars, including Afghanistan and Iraq, but he said that his blog was the most important work that he'd ever done. He opened up a small piece of society by starting a converstaion about sickness and death, and he united thousands of survivors and caregivers under the guise of his daily posts. When someone asked him what he got out of his sometimes heart-wrenching blog, he wrote, "A daily reminder that none of us walks this road alone. What could be better than that?"
In the last 6 months, as he neared the end, it was more and more difficult to force myself to read his posts. When he sold his Jeep, that was when I knew he had come to terms with the end, and I stopped reading all together. I'm sure that some of this stemmed from my similar experience with my dad, who did a pretty good job of keeping hidden how ill he was until close to the end. The little clues would slip out, like red flags, telling me it was time to see things for myself. Regrettably, I didn't pick up on these fast enough. Fathers always seem so invincible, I guess. And like Leroy, to think of them as just as vulnerable as the rest of us will nearly break your heart.
The last few years, sometimes the loss has seemed like too much to bare. Losing Leroy, this person I never talked to, never looked in the face, never once met was not as sad to me as the other people I've had to say good-bye to, but I think served as a reminder that these things never stop happening. The end of life is an essential part of it, and though some of us are able to live in a world where reality is far enough out of eye-sight to ignore it, it still continues on. Life is tough.
Strangely enough, during this weird time, I've recently seen that I've taken a step onto a new emotional plain in my personal life. It has been a long time coming but I've progressed to a level of openness and vulnerability that I haven't found myself on in a very long while (think high school). That sounds much more dramatic than it is, really, because if it weren't for my seemingly unexplained feelings of fear then I probably wouldn't have even realized that I was in a new place that I didn't allow myself before. When these things happen it is always both shocking to find one's self here and simulateously frightening how long I denied being elsewhere. And that I denied that I could actually allow myself to love more than I did before. As many times as I've written here that there is little other choice than to live this way, it is definitely easier said than done.
Believe it or not, I think this is the "life is good" part; this is the silver lining. Like Doc Paskowitz said, "It's easier to die when you have lived than it is to die when you have not. So I say to all young people: go make beautiful memories. And when the time comes for you to go, you will not be alone." It's so difficult to get to the edge and take the leap, but it's also what life is about. So I'm trying to follow my own advise and to live in spite of the fear, in spite of the pain, and in spite of the sadness.
With the death of those around me, I want to soak up the grief and live with it, because fearing it and stuffing it down will only kill a tiny part of me. But I also want to know, at the end of my life, that I didn't allow that sadness and fear to stop me from feeling the love that I feel today. Yes, it's the scariest thing I've ever felt, because it means if I'm hurt, it will nearly devour me. But I guess you can't only make good memories. So in order to make any memories at all we have to embrace it all, even the darkness. And look for and feel the connectness between us all. That is what keeps us sane. That is what living is.
Today I'm living.
Life is good.