Dead and Dreaming

The news came on Thursday that my Great-Grandma had died.  I’d heard that she believed there wasn’t much time left to live, and it turns out she was right.

What a blessing it must be, to be so prepared to die.  If I thought I were going to die soon, the weight of everything I’d left undone would be crushing.  She was well into her 90’s, so maybe she felt there wasn’t much left to be done with her life.  Maybe it’s worse than I imagine- knowing that the great decisions of life all lay behind, rather than ahead.  It would be easy to lose one’s sense of purpose (which has nothing to do with age, it can happen to anyone).  Of course, it all depends on your perspective-  no matter how aged they become, some folks stay purpose-driven to their last day.

I find it interesting that so many people my age lose their sense of purpose.  After obtaining a diploma in whatever field was supposed to get you a good job, they can’t find work.  Maybe that’s why they so many of them get married- two people can give each other a sense of purpose, but I doubt the sustainability of such an arrangement.  There has to be more to a relationship than two rudderless people.

For my own part, I can’t articulate what my purpose is just yet.  There even be purposes; why limit myself to one thing?

In any case, my family has gotten just a bit smaller.  It’s difficult to grasp the loss of someone you haven’t seen for a long time- if I may make a blunt analogy, it’s like a tree losing a limb.  There’s only a dim awareness that something is different, and looking at the extant branches is proof that one is missing.

There was a death very close to my home this weekend, too.

A brother and sister were playing on an old conrete aquaduct a few hundred yards from my house.  I’d walked by the site several times; it’s on a small lane that is amazingly well-hidden within a developed city.  On Friday, the aquaduct collapsed, killed the sister and trapped the brother.  April and I were working in the yard when we heard the sirens go by, which is not at all uncommon since there’s a firestation about a half-mile from our house.  The sign that something was really wrong came roaring over the tops of the trees; a medical helicopter flew so close over our heads I could feel the force of the blades.

It touched down across the street in the schoolyard, as more police and firemen arrived.  I had no idea what had happened, but a crowd was gathering to watch the helicopter, and folks were exchanging rumors.  Evidently, there was a boy trapped somewhere.  A few minutes later, news helicopters appeared in the sky like giant locusts, and our neighbor was watching their live broadcast.  It was announced that a boy had been trapped beneath fallen concrete, and was being carefully extracted.

Awhile later, we watched the medical helicopter lift off, the boy safely inside.  After observing the relative calm with which they transported and attended the stretcher, I suspected the boy was safe.  Elated by a successful rescue, April and I decided to take a ride that evening, so we set off into the cool evening air for a trip around  the city.

On the way home, we noticed that there was still a news helicopter hovering over the site of the accident, about 2 hours after we’d seen the boy safely lifted away.  Totally non-plused, we rode by the aquaduct, which was still teeming with rescue and police officers.

At home, we checked the news for updates.  Evidently, the boy had sister who was with him during the collapse- she was already dead when the rescuers arrived.

What a horrible realization it was.  Earlier, we were happy that the boy was safely rescued, and assumed that disaster had been averted.  Now, we still feel shock.  We’d walked by the aquaduct so many times, never giving it a thought.  Similarly, there are always kids outside playing in our neighborhood.  This is the way the world ought to be.

The aquaduct has since been completely destroyed, the damage done to the family immeasurable, and a cloud of malaise hangs over our neighborhood.  It’s not possible to completely grasp a tragedy like this, but the effects are usually much more salient.

What concerns me most is that parents will be even more restrictive with their kids.  Accidents make us consider what we would do if we were the victim, and I’m certain many parents are full of chagrin thinking about what could happen to their children.

Not being parent, I have a limited understanding of their thoughts.  As a human, I will say this much: I think a worse fate than death is a life of constant protection and insulation.  In this case, the child was playing outdoors with her sibling, not watching TV, playing video games, snacking, or any of the myriad things kids are accused of doing too much.  These were two kids enjoying life.

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