It’s life, Sidda. You don’t figure it out. You just climb on the beast and ride. Rebecca Wells, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
I have never been a daredevil but I took my chances when I was younger in ways that could easily have shortened my life. It was during that period of time when we feel invincible, as though life or luck or that proverbial angel who watches over us will keep us safe from harm, no matter what. Driving too fast or too aggressively or both. Walking home from Union Station in Washington, D.C. at 1:00 am, thinking that staying in the middle of the street would keep me safe. Sneaking onto the Stanford golf course with big blocks of ice and riding them down the hills of the course. Leaving them there when the security guard spotted us and gave chase. Riding borrowed Big Wheels 35 miles an hour down Deer Creek Road in the dark with no lights and no helmets. Ill-advised yet deliciously fun, although tame compared to what other friends got up to during those years.
“Life is short” … In my twenties, I took it as encouragement to stay up late, pack my days full, go out with friends every night, short my sleep. I grew up in a family where the only people who died were in their 80s, 90s, even 100s and truly horrible things happened to other people. When my parents and I fought over my curfew in high school, they used to say, “We’re not worried about what you’ll do. It’s what someone else will do that worries us.” I did not understand.
Thirty years later, I get it now. Life is short, far too short for way too many amazing and wonderful people. People who step off a curb a moment too late or a moment too early. People on that dark street who never make it home. Children who don’t live to see adulthood or even their first birthday. Souls in agony who feel the only way out is to take their own lives. Cancer, heart attacks, domestic violence, child abuse. Some days the world feels more than half terrible.
And yet … for all the stories that break my heart, beauty remains. The unexpected kindness of a stranger. The grace and courage of a mother who perseveres after the death of her only child. The determination of a sister to go on living despite the painful absence of an older brother whose sweetness and wisdom once gently guided her life. The resilience of a young widow whose life was shattered in an instant by the death of her husband. The refusal of so many people to give up, to give in, to stop searching for the light.
I think of the Japanese vases, mended with gold. How that gold shines and shimmers in the broken places. We are all like that, I think. And maybe the falls, the heartbreak, the losses, the grief, the people we love who are taken from us too soon are what makes these lives of ours worth living in the end. Perhaps they are what remind us to watch the sunset, stare up at the night sky, make time for one more kiss or hug. To savor the sweetness of summer strawberries and a crisp, fruity glass of Chardonnay. To fill our bellies full of delicious food and stay up late telling stories and sharing memories of those who are no longer here. To laugh just a little harder at Talladega Nights or Trevor Noah. To stop trying to figure out this short, sweet life of ours and just ride.
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