The Barbed Wire Fence
May 7, 2010 § 5 Comments
This morning I was sitting in the drive about to leave when a friend passing by stopped. We had our car windows open and I leaned over and said, “Did you hear about—”
“Yes,” she said.
That’s what it’s like to live in a small town. And interestingly, it was instantly comforting. Today we are all thinking about the same thing: Matt Waite died yesterday.
It’s inconceivable, as any tragic, out-of-nowhere accident always is. All the more so because Matt was an active, healthy, solid guy. He was young, by which I realize I mean he wasn’t much older than me. He was a prominent community member, well-known and liked, dad of two bright-eyed girls, one of whom is in my daughter’s fourth grade class.
Although I didn’t know Matt well, I know some things about him: I know he occasionally liked to go to Vegas and gamble with his wife Kelly; I know he liked to go to Bike Week in Florida with his buddies where elaborate practical jokes would provide storytelling material for years to come; I know he had a big laugh and a wide, ready grin. He had no fear about standing up at Town Meeting and speaking his mind. Like my husband, he was surrounded by women in his household, and he seemed to have a good sense of humor about being in the minority.
Of course, when you’re a teenager you think that nothing can kill you; when you’re an adult you realize that everything can. Part of the trick about being a grown-up is that necessary suspension-of-disbelief required to forget that you could be tapped out of the big game of Musical Chairs at any time: no matter how comfortable we are in this skin, it is, after all, a loaner.
Despite this, virtually everything we do has to do with planning, maybe even more so in the country: buy wood pellets in the summer so this winter you’ll be warm… plant asparagus knowing you’ll harvest them in three years… plant a tree over there so you can have apples in ten… slather sun-screen on your kids so they won’t get skin cancer when they’re your age… what don’t we do for the sake of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow? We spend all our time trying to raise our kids, grow our plants, tend everything just right, all with the idea that we have some idea what tomorrow will bring, when of course we don’t. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a punctuation mark appears, ending our own personal run-on sentence just like that.
The ramifications of such a loss are surely incalculable. On her third birthday, my mother lost her father to a sudden heart attack, and that salient fact is as much a part of her as her love of animals and her laugh and the funny way she sneezes… like a tree that grows up in and around the barbed wire fence, it is a wound that may heal, but never goes away- the tree grows differently because of it. Now our town will grieve with Matt Waite’s family not only because we will miss Matt ourselves, but because we wish his daughters and wife didn’t have to have that terrible wound, the wound that will heal, but will always be there too- a part of them.
Next month our family will attend my children’s great-grandfather’s 90th birthday celebration. Today our next door neighbor went into labor. Here at our house, like a mother hen, I anxiously await the appearance of our now third-year asparagus… life goes on. But every day somebody, somewhere, is tapped out of the game, fair or not. Next time it really, truly, could be you- or much worse- someone you love. Next time- tomorrow, the next day, someday- that gaping wound could be, will be yours.
So. How do you cope with that?
“Did you hear about—” I started to ask her.
“Yes,” she said.
Today we are all thinking the same thing. And that, I suppose, is a start.