Death and blue skies.
I can't get that phrase out of my head these days. Death and blue skies, because both have been such a feature of my summer.
I've been intensely happy these past 6 weeks, doing a job I love in a beautiful place. I fell in love with Saskatoon, and it's going on my list of Places I Would Like To Work In Again. But it's been an unsettling summer too. My home province is burning up. Vancouverites pray for rain. And death has left its mark on people I love dearly.
A few days ago, my second homes, Wells and Barkerville, lost an extraordinary man far too soon. Although I liked and admired him (and shared a drink or two with him at the Wells Pub), we weren't close, and I am more saddened because of the untimeliness of his loss, and devastated on behalf of the community and the people who were close to him. One of those people wrote a beautiful tribute to Tim here.
When people in Barkerville die, my friend Danette will often post a moving tribute to them, and end with the phrase "forever part of the story of us." It's a beautiful expression, and it's resonated with me over the summer for a number of reasons. For one thing, of course we want so much to believe that when someone we love leaves us, some part of them will live on in our love and memories. For the ones who are left behind, stories and memories and love are our ways of immortalizing and honouring the ones who are gone. Every memory is a building block, and so I take the time to remember Pat's love of music, or Corinne's long braid and twinkling eyes, Pinchy's solo stick-wrestling games, or Tim's truculent posture, booming voice, and love of theatre and whiskey. Friends and family all over will do likewise, and I think one of the very best things about social media is that it gives us a place to share these stories with each other, however scattered we are.
But the story of us has another meaning to me.
Every time we get on a plane, step out in front of traffic, hike in a forest full of bears- fuck that. Every time we wake up in the morning and start another day we are politely asking death to pass us by, again.
I am the heroine of my life story, just as you are the hero(-ine) of yours, and the friends, family, enemies and co-workers who surround us are players in that story too. And when someone dies, our stories change, and when someone dies unexpectedly young, or tragically, we are rocked. The story wasn't supposed to go that way. And if we can lose someone we love suddenly in a car accident, or a massive stroke, or an asthma attack, who's to say that we cannot be lost as well? At any moment.
A friend of mine wrote to say that she "couldn't stop crying" after someone's sudden death, and my first reaction was to think to myself but you weren't that close. But that's not the point. A piece of her story is missing now, in a way she never expected; the world has tilted and shifted. For a moment, the facade slipped away and death was frighteningly near. As it always is, and the walls we build around us to forget that fact can crumble so terrifyingly fast. Someone dies, or- as has happened to me this summer- a handful of deaths occur, and those of us who are not close enough to the dead to be actively grieving that person must still rebuild our concept of what life is. Not a stroll down a quiet street but a tightrope walk over a gaping chasm. And that's why we write those old, tired truths: Live each moment as if it's your last. Tell your friends that you love them, every day. Make it count.
I have no words of wisdom, I wrote to someone who just lost her love, her best friend. Only hugs and rage and hope.
We live. We step onto the tightrope every single day. We meet people who become part of the story of us. And we lose them; our protective walls are knocked down over and over again and if we're lucky we get through with the love and determination of the community we build around us. Because whoever you are, living each and every day knowing that death is coming for you? That's the bravest thing you can do.