One of the strangest causes of death I’ve ever read about was a high school student who was visiting the University of Auburn. He and a group of students were walking along a concrete path between two buildings on campus when a limb fell out of a tree and stuck him on the head, killing him instantly. Here’s some kid who lives five hundred miles away from this spot, will only be there a fraction of a second in his entire life, and that’s the very moment that he’s killed. One second here’s his brain processing the shape of the young women walking ahead of him and then the limb falls. Everything in his mind that makes him who he is, isn’t, in that fraction of a second, and never will be again. He’s dead, Jim.
The parents of young men lead a hard life for if they know anything at all about young men it’s they’re going to do things that are dangerous to one degree or another. I used to catch rattlesnakes. Other guys I knew were into drag racing. There were those of us who dove off the Chattahoochee river bridge and there were those of us who drank to excess and drove our cars. This young man’s parents had managed to get him through all of that and even got him into the position to get into a University, and suddenly they get the call that a limb fell out of a tree. A limb? Yes, a limb.
Can you imagine trying to process that information? A limb? Yes, a limb. What kind of limb? Uh, I’m not sure, let me get back to you on that. Would you have to know what kind of limb? If your child was killed in a car wreck would the other car’s identity matter to you? But you’d ask where and who was there. If your son was a risk taker or if you were one of those parents who blamed your child for everything that ever happened you’d ask if he was swinging on it. There would be tears from friends and family, a lawsuit, likely, a policy on limbs and many of them cut, there would be flowers and stuffed animals at the site, but a year later, other than less shade, the place where the limb fell would be the same, and the tree would be the same. And the family would wake up one day and realize that it had been a year already.
I saw a car on the side of the road one day and stopped to ask the woman if she needed help. She was sitting there, crying, and because this was the age before cell phones, I offered to give her a ride back into town if she needed one. No, no, she said she was okay, but her daughter was killed at this intersection and she came to visit the intersection every year. She filmed the site each year, she actually got out of her car and began to show me how it all worked, and then I noticed there was a white wooden cross on the back slope of the ditch. The woman took the cross up each year and put a new one in its place. I helped her do both, because a man really can’t bail on that sort of thing, can he? I mean, once that kind of story begins you’re honor bound to ride it down to the point you’re helping take one cross down and put another up. There was something about this part of it, because this was always the last thing she did, that got to her. This part of the ceremony was a release for her and she went back to the car and sobbed as if she had just gotten the call all over again, anew. I’m in that film, of that year, somewhere, and I wonder how that fits into all of it for her. She told me she had been doing it for seven years.
I buried a friend of mine last year and buried his mother a few years before that. Two generations of them I have lain side by side and I hope that his sons, her grandchildren, outlive me. I have my doubts for both his sons, like their father before them, are heavy smokers. The father died at fifty so if a son dies at the same age I will be in my seventies, and likely, if I keep up my own lifestyle, be available with a pressed suit.
Yesterday I lay on the floor and petted my dogs. They all want the ultimate in both hands at one time attention but they realize there are other pack mates. Lucas tries to push the others away unless I make him sit and stay, Lilith sits and stays because she is a polite person, and Sam goes from one side to the other trying to find the shortest line. The weather was cool and the dogs were really pumped up about it finally being good weather. It’s good to see them happy like this and happier still when they realize I’m going to sit there for a while, and everyone is going to get some quality time with their dad. This brings us all together at one time when everyone is feeling loved and being loved, and there is a lot of full body contact between us all. I get jostled and pushed with noses. I get puppy kisses. Everyone has their favorite; Sam’s ears, Lucas’ back, Lilith’s belly. No one is pushing anyone away, everyone is happy, everyone is loved, everyone is being loved.
Often, death is quick, unpredictable, and capricious. Life, however, can be gently guided and enjoyed in the moment, this very moment, if we take the time for it. As certain as death, love happens every instant, every moment, every day, but this is our choice; only Death can stop us.
What’s stopping you now?