Last week, something happened that has haunted me. There were two bicyclists killed in Utah. They were friends who were riding their bikes to work together, and were hit by a truck. I didn’t know them, but some of my friends did, and it was so sobering to me, reading their obituaries and seeing the comments on Facebook. Two lives gone, just like that.
I think this story struck me so hard because of that two degrees of separation—but also because it’s something I worry about when I’m out running. I’m careful and I pay attention and I wear bright clothes, but it would be so easy to be hit by a car. Drivers don’t always pay attention, and trust me: they do not watch for pedestrians. You have to assume that every single car does not see you.
This is something I’m certain those men knew, and that’s what I mean: you can prepare and be careful, but sometimes death grabs you anyway.
This week, one of my scrapbooking friends, Monika, posted on Facebook about her father-in-law, who was missing. They found his body the next day. I was so touched by what she wrote:
“While it is overwhelming and sad and unthinkable for us now, we all know that Papa, loved by his family and adored by his many friends, passed where he was most at home, in his beloved mountains on the property his parents worked hard to own and preserve for future generations.”
The way we die is just one part of our life. Sometimes it defines entire years of our lives, sometimes just seconds. In the past five years, we have gone through a lot of illness and death in our family, and it has been painful and sorrowful and awful. I miss my dad and my in-laws so much.
And I hate the way they died.
My father-in-law suffered with cancer for a long time, but we thought he still had a year left, except suddenly he just didn’t, and even though we knew the end was closer than we liked, we had counted on that extra time. None of us really got to say goodbye.
From his diagnosis to his death, my dad lingered in his deteriorating mental state for nearly five years. I tried to tell him goodbye, and that I loved him, so many times but I don’t think he understood anymore. And he couldn’t ever really tell me goodbye. I wish he could have told me something, but I can’t tell you exactly what. Something only he could say.
My mother-in-law was recuperating beautifully from a double mastectomy. She had been to the doctor two days before she died, and he told her that her heart was strong. Then she had a massive heart attack. Say goodbye? Her death felt like a bolt of lightning.
The two bikers who were killed didn’t get to say goodbye. My friend Monika’s father-in-law didn’t get to, either.
But I keep going back to what she wrote—that he passed where he was most at home.
And the bikers, who died instantly, died doing what they loved.
I don’t know that I believe in fate—that the length a life is already decided. But if we have to die (and who doesn’t), I think there is some tiny solace in leaving that way. In a place you love, or doing something you are passionate about. I would far rather die say, hiking Timp than in a hospital bed.
But no one gets to choose.
So I am lingering in these thoughts of death, which sounds fairly gloomy, but they are making me think in ways I haven’t before. Not exactly. This morning, for whatever reason, I thought what if today was my last day on earth? One of my first responses to this thought was is there writing on the other side? Because I can’t imagine experiencing anything without also wanting to write about it.
So I paid attention today. I thought of all the time I squander—on Facebook or on the Internet. Or just by not really paying attention. I tried not to waste a second, and to be present. And I watched for moments, those numinous moments that really: we have every day. If we watch. If today was my last day and I didn’t get to say goodbye, I would still be grateful for these moments:
- Watching Kaleb walk into school this morning. He doesn’t love school, but he loves having friends, and someone waved to him and someone else said hello, and his whole body was beaming with happiness—but he still stopped and waved goodbye to me.
- The few minutes I had before work, when ostensibly I was reading but really I was watching the way the light was spreading above Cascade mountain.
- Just before I walked over to unlocked the library doors, I noticed that sunlight was pouring in through the windows, lighting up the very-brand-new buds on the magnolia tree and then washing across might desk. I know it’s not prestigious, and the world values it very little, and I don’t make very much money, but I love my job.
- Laughing with Kendell and Jake about a text I sent that ended up sounding like one of those autocorrect fails.
- I went running this afternoon. And since the lone runner is a one-person parade, and because it was grey outside, and a little windy, I decided to wear my cheeriest running pants. The very-bright neon pink ones. I ran three miles without walking, and I hit the busiest light at exactly the right second so I didn’t have to wait to cross, and, you know: I didn’t fall. (That always feels like a success lately!) I still feel like I am running through sludge (heavy and slow, and like my legs are coated in a dense slurry of something), but my pink pants made me happy anyway.
- making jokes with my friend Julie at work, about the things people leave behind. Why someone’s discarded chapstick or lotion tube feels slightly icky is sort of inexplicable, but the truth is that we touched those items very gingerly. And then washed our hands afterwards.
- just now, a late night talk with Nathan, about nothing really specific—his night out with friends, and his recent student council portfolio (he has to wait until April 4 to find out if he made it), and who at school is really bugging him. He forgot to bring me a cookie but it’s OK.
The thing about the numinous moments is that often they are just normal moments. But they are what life is made of. If it was my last day on earth, I think when I got to the other side I would want to write a letter—to my mom, and to Haley, and to Becky, and to Chris To the people I thought about but didn’t see or talk to today. I’d want to tell them that I love them, because you never get the chance to say that enough.
I don’t think it will be today—my last day on earth. But one day, it will. Against all the odds, I hope I get to say goodbye. I hope I don’t die in a hospital. I hope I will fulfill more of my dreams and goals before that day. I hope I see my kids grow up, and succeed, and start their own families. I hope for a reunion of sorts, one day. I hope I live more, both in the small moments and the large gestures.
But more than anything, I hope that when it is my day, however it comes, the people I leave behind will know I loved them. So, just in case you wondered or you weren't sure or I never told you enough: I love you. Don't forget it.