So when Maddie reacts by asking, “When is this going to stop?” as if magically one day we will all be in the Emerald City and be done with the sorrow, the disappointments and the sometimes terrifying events, my answer is probably not the one she wishes to hear. As long as we are living, “it” does not stop. The sadness and the joy keep on coming, side by side, in sync or totally imbalanced, but they are life forces and since no one promised us a rose garden, the thorns continue to grow on the vine.
My 25 year old niece Katie’s best friend was found dead this morning. It was a shocking, tragic death of a 40 something year old man whom she worked with named, Lee. Katie spoke of him often and tinkered with the idea of moving from North Carolina to New York with him or traveling through Europe with him and vising his family in the UK. Recently, when Katie visited some friends in New York, Lee was texting her constantly throughout her stay. She relied on him for feedback, for laughs, for encouragement. I noticed when she got back here, that he was the first person she called and spoke to as she went to sleep that night.
Katie is a waitress-supreme. She is the waitress you always wish you had; one knowledgeable about the food and wine offerings and one who makes sure you are well taken care of for a perfect dining experience. She does this in Wilmington, North Carolina’s only authentic French bistro and is well loved by her customers, co-workers, and restaurant owners. Lee was also a waiter and by far one of the most popular in this dining establishment. Most of the time, he and Katie worked together, laughed non-stop, made life plans, commiserated and drank together after work. However, Katie was well aware that Lee drank too much and was clearly on his way to full blown alcoholism. She was concerned and encouraging him to beware or at least to be aware. It seems his death was closely related to his alcohol abuse last night on his birthday.
Lee and Katie were truly best friends and though I questioned her about any possible romantic nuances, she clearly and vehemently denied saying, “He is my brother!” I believed her. And though I only met Lee once and very briefly, I felt that I knew him somewhat through Katie’s descriptions and joy in knowing this man.
So, when Lee was found dead in the most shocking of circumstances this morning and Katie was there instantly to convince herself that this might be real, she became inconsolable saying as we all say many times in our lives, “I cannot do this.” Ironically, I remember sitting next to her sister Maddie in the emergency room, as her father lay dying a few years, hearing her say, “I cannot do this.” And then again, when Katie came home to see her father in his casket and decided she did not want to go into see him like that her saying, “I cannot do this.”
There really are so many moments in our lives when we do say, “I cannot do this” and we mean it with all our heart. It is as if to say, “Someone please take me away from this horror, this unbearable pain, and protect me from this so I do not have to participate.” The cruel reality is that there is no turning away and there is no protection from the worst that life has to offer and whether or not one thinks they “cannot do this” they will have to anyway. Rarely, can one be protected and if they are, it will only be for a short while until the water begins to leak through the crack in the vessel.
So, my heart breaks for the tender and vulnerable heart of this young and beautiful niece of mine who means so very much to me, because I wish I could protect her and her sister, and all of my sons as well, from the angst of life. But not only is that not possible, but it would not be a life lived in truth and honesty either. Because the reality is such that if you have suffered, then you have also known joy and they do not exist separated from each other. To know one, is to know both. To not know one, is to know none. And don’t we elders all wish we had the language that we could use to describe how this flaming pain of love and loss will feel and to prepare our youngest ones for this? But, the words do not exist and each of us seems to have to go through these moments of life changing intensity in order to grow and become wiser and to develop the depth of understanding that enables us to become.