this post was also inspired by this interview. it will probably break your heart a little, as the author says. worth the read.
"And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss."
on the morning of christmas eve, i woke at the crack of dawn and went with my parents to the airport to fly back to nyc. i realize this might sound awful to many of you, but i have travelled on christmas or christmas eve for as long as i can remember. so to me, it seems quite natural. and the airports, the roads, the trains - they are mostly quiet and uncrowded. everyone is already home for the holidays. it's really quite nice, relatively speaking. i found myself that early morning in potbelly's, a favorite of mine, getting some breakfast, when i saw her. from the back i wasn't quite sure it was her, and it took me a few moments to convince myself that i was right. the last time i had seen mrs. miller was about a year and a half ago at her daughter's funeral, who was a good friend of mine from high school. by the time i ran into her at the airport, she had also lost her other daughter in yet another random, and tragic accident.
i stood there waiting for my sandwich, watching people slowly pass her by, making their way to their flight. since debbie and her sister died, i have thought about their mother a lot. it has been impossible for me to understand, and fruitless to try, i know, why one woman has been given so much to mourn. all of her children have passed away before her. her marriage ended a long time ago, and he left his fatherly duties behind with the marriage. she has parents, and siblings, and friends, but the family she deliberately created no longer exists.
and perhaps that's why her i think of her so much. i'm at a point in my life, a precipice, as are many of my friends where we are wishing these things, planning these things, counting on these things. we see mostly long, happy marriages. perhaps we see children - always healthy, always happy. maybe we can think as far ahead as to our future children being teenagers, or going on that trip for our 15th anniversary. and it's only natural to assume that these things will mostly go this way. that they will come to us eventually. we worked hard in school, and we got good grades. we worked hard at our relationships, and we have good friends. we worked hard to eat well and exercise, and we're healthy. we worked hard at our jobs, and we got good reviews. along the way life hasn't been perfect - we've learned hard lessons, watched some loved ones fall ill, had a broken heart, grown up. but with some luck, guidance, and hard work, we got everything we were told over and over again that we'd get. so what exactly does one do when that all disappears? how exactly does one look back on their 20-year-old self, and break the news to them? i don't think the word naive covers it. and i certainly don't think i have any idea how it feels.
as i paid for my sandwich i finally realized that i think there are stereotypes in life - hundreds, thousands, maybe - and i think we all fill one, even a little. the person who always seems to light up the room. the person who's always flown under the radar. the person whose happiness seems innate. the person who seems fated to suffer more loss, to be more haunted than the rest of us. really, there are hundreds. and i think in some way they exist. and that we're kind of just born into them. that we've been them all along. that it may take us a long time to figure out which one we may be. that we may never figure it out. that it doesn't really matter if we figure it out. but as i see people live their lives more, i find that i can put them into rough categories. and they were always a part of that category. they were always destined to kind of be that way, to kind of be that stereotype. at least, for now, this thought makes sense to me. for now, it makes me feel like i can comprehend life a little better, rightly or wrongly.
we talked for a few minutes before i walked back to my gate. i wondered, as i walked away, if she thought why i was the one walking back to my parents. why i was the one spending christmas with my family, as opposed to her daughters. i wondered it, because i know i was thinking it too.
' "Do you think there was part of you that imagined the two of you would somehow end up together?"
"No," she says. "I said it would make me too sad to answer but it's also..." - and she nods even as her voice breaks once more with tears - "...one of my favorite things to imagine." And through the tears, a beaming, almost beatific smile stretches room-wide across her face. "It's actually one of my favorite places to visit." '