Three days before I received the phone call telling me “Dan is dead.” I was driving to the mall near my parents’ house with Audrey and my mother.
Dan was away, so since weekends were harder- I had slept over my parents with Audrey. I was going to return some clothes, and while we were there, we were going to let Audrey ride the merry go round- something she loves.
As I drove there, I was talking to my mom about how I still wasn’t quite over the whole bed bug fiasco- a horrible trial Dan and I had suffered through the week Audrey was born – finding out our whole building in Brooklyn was infested and leaving behind everything we owned and moving in with my parents for five months. It was still hard even almost two years later to think of that dark period of time.
But what I remember specifically is telling my mother that I’d get over it and was starting to get on with life …and…that though it was stressful and horrible, that I’d never had any real tragedy in my life.
“I’ve never had any real tragedy in my life,” is what I said. “So I feel lucky. Some people go through far worse.”
And now I know tragedy. Now I am “some people.” Now suddenly, all of the things I worried about before, all of the drama seems utterly pointless- in fact I know Dan and I were always stressed and fought a lot- but I can not for the life of me remember what all that was about – or why it mattered. We were together- we loved each other. Why wasn’t that enough?
Since I was a little girl, I’d always had an extreme aversion to two games: musical chairs and hot potato. If I was at a party and they were suggested, I panicked inside. Both were so exclusionary by nature…forcing one person to leave the circle. But I also, at such an early age, saw them as an analogy for life- the lack of chair and the hot potato were tragedy and pain, and I was just trying to avoid being caught with that potato in my hand. So I played those games furiously- my legs and arms reaching for that chair- tossing that potato out of my hand in an instant as if it really was hot. I just wanted to protect myself- to get through life as unscathed as possible.
But here I am holding that potato and the music has stopped.
Tragedy is not for “other people.” The human condition is tragic. Death and separation is tragic. I believe it’s tragic because it is utterly unnatural. My mind still cannot comprehend that my love’s shell- his dead body- is buried under what the funeral home described to me as “a ton of dirt.” My body has been in a total state of shock physically since this occurred- all kinds of chemical changes, digestive problems, and physical ailments. It is unnatural- it is impossible to process. Why is that? Why?
It reminds me though of having a child- you can not seem to process no matter how hard you try- that there is a human being sprouting up inside your body. That one simple act between you and your husband has created a unique individual. When the baby arrives and especially as she grows, you think back to those first wondrous kicks and flutters inside of you, and you look at your growing child running around complete with personality, and you just can not process that the two are connected.
So I believe both life and death- are not ours to process because they are not ours at all. We are witnesses. How did this life come? How did it go? We build things and make things- we’ve come very far. But the equations found by mathematicians, the knowledge discovered by doctors as they try to decipher this body we live in, the satellites we send into outer space to look and listen- even the music notes we put together and find something pleasing about- they’re all just finding things that are already there- the equations fit- we did not make them fit- the body forms and functions- we desperately try to understand how even though it is our very own. The universe stretches and spins and we try to trace its origin, and the music is out there- floating in space as well- waiting to be found by ears who can hear.
“He who has ears, let him hear!” Matthew 11:15