A Combustible Flash

It was my dad that said,”Don’t put that cross there. Put it at the rock overlooking our place”. I told him right from the very next day that I had to make peace with that place or I couldn’t live here anymore. I had to make peace with the burnt grass and the absence of laughter. I had to make peace with the ache in my chest every time I drive around that corner. I had to make peace with the mental simulation of what she experienced in those final moments listening to her music and what it might have felt like as her tires dropped off the edge of the road.

Six inches transformed into a fateful abyss.

I’ve had to make peace with the absence I feel while holding her clothes, not her body and trying desperately to inhale her fading scent. I’ve had to make peace with my rolling moods, elated from the antics of families and friends to fracture within my solitude every single day. At first I was held tightly under the protection of numbness. Earthly dramas fell by the roadside and meant nothing along side a blue cross with her name scribed in painted white letters.

It is a gift and a curse to be forced into such clarity.

In the early moments, we were gifted vastly with love and embrace from so many people but one of the gifts that touched me the most was a packet of letters bound in a blue ribbon. Each letter held a different message. “For when you are depressed”. “For when you want to know how she touched the world”. “For when you need a laugh”. “For when you need a reminder of her determination”. “For when you need to know how stubborn she was”. “For when you need to know how many lives she touched”. I savoured these letters and opened them slowly over several weeks and held tightly to the messages as if I had my arms wrapped around her.
There is only one envelope left unopened. “For when you are angry,” it said.

I never thought it would come until Constable Julie Ruest visited my house, 6 months after the accident. Eidan and I sat quietly trying to absorb the information that they decided to divulge and share with us. Sydney used to harass me to buy her what the other kids already had. She used to cry and get angry that I wouldn’t crater to the trend. “Mom”, she said. “I’m the only kid in Grade 12 without one”. I would tell her that she was the only kid in Grade 12 with five horses. I would tell her that once she could afford to pay for it…she could have it. She owned one for less than a year.

It disturbs me that my son tells me that he is one of two people not to have a cell phone in his grade eight class. When you buy your kid a phone, does it ever occur that we feed the addiction that has become social networking? We think that we need it for accountability and for safety, in case we get stranded on the road side. We often use it for almost everything else except talking on the phone. We communicate, check the news, check our neighbors’ news, check the weather, take photographs, stimulate and at the same time disengage from relationships with a simple click of a button. Like Pavlov’s dog…the moment the red light blinks, we are conditioned to look at our 4 inch screen. We are expected to be perversely and immediately accountable to whomever is trying to connect.
It is radical, I know, but do you ever think of your child’s Christmas gift instead as a tool for addiction, “selfie” inspired narcissism and mass destruction? Would you trust someone that shouts out from their soap box that didn’t use a cell phone?
You can trust me. I’ve done it all.

What about Sydney? Would you listen to her from her lofty perspective next time you look down while driving. Will you see her face? The conversation was idle banter of “I dunno, dugghh and lol”. It was frivolous and light and talked about the day. The snap chatted photograph was her beautiful selfie holding a bag of candy. Did you know that your snap chatted photographs and conversations are retrievable even after death?

It was a combustible flash of anger not directed at anyone and simultaneously directed everywhere. To every cell phone and every person with eyes cast down sitting in the drivers’ seat. A beautiful life fractured from the rest of us. Do you know that Webster’s Dictionary has adopted “Selfie” into our official English vocabulary?
What about death by selfie? What about death by cell phone? Who has adopted that? Aside from us.

She was happy within those final moments. They say she didn’t suffer.

I can stop sifting through the grass, shreds of charred belongings and the glass at the roadside, looking for clues as to how and why my daughter vanished off the planet. I can sit beside my grief, gazing at new flowers and quietly reflect upon the heartache and miracles of the living and of the ones whom have passed. Yearning for a child that is no longer here leaves a vast crack in the heart that seemingly cannot be fixed and radically changes who we become. It is a strange place to be existing between the tears for the one that has left and the one that brings me laughter every single day.

My friend told me that when sorrow carves so deeply…there is no room for anger.
Only a combustible flash. – Love Tami

“Be thankful that even though she was taken far too soon…that you had opportunity to spend eighteen years with a beautiful and natural girl. Be angry for the memories you can no longer make but be even more thankful for the ones you already have”.
-Love Megan

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What is the Worth of a Man?

There comes a time it seems, somewhere after the heart is ripped out when all we want to do is laugh again. The weight of it all is too much to hold on one’s own and we just wish to have a life that is free of heartache and pain. Free of the burden of the energy it takes to rise up from the weight of the rubble. I can hardly write a post about tragedy anymore. It’s like walking to the edge of the abyss and still deciding where it is I want to be after I’ve already calmed the vertigo and stepped back, closer to safety.

But then, there is another story. Another mother, standing and gazing over that same cliff, wondering what the fuck just happened and whether or not in a moment, if she could jump, just to ease the pain of standing there.

A woman said to me, “But I would never want to burden and infringe upon others with my journey”. In sharing our stories, ‘do we not draw closer, find each other and feel’? In a world plagued with habitual numbness, is this not exactly what it means to be alive? Walking a mile in someone’s shoes?  Standing at the edge of their terror?  Learning compassion, insight, humility and vowing to transform our own lives into something better? Every journey is an adventure but some journeys are wrought with pain.  Perhaps the stories worth sharing are the ones that cut the deepest and explore the suffering that illuminates what it means to be alive.

The other day in Medicine Hat, it was minus 40 degrees celsius, which in fact could have been one of the coldest cities upon the planet. A bearded man has a place upon the street where he sits with a cardboard sign.  In passing, I read the  black lettering that asked, “Do you know why they call me the Prophet?” As the spare change in his cup rattled, he asked me another question. “Hey, lady.  What is the worth of the life of a man?” He asked me like I might not know and with the  gesture of his cup, I couldn’t help but  feel that whatever I had in my pocket might somehow define the worth of this man, sitting on a street corner, within a conservative little city, somewhere beneath a blanket of snow and icy winds.

Do you ever wonder about those people?  The ones that we pass by, with barely a second glance, stepping over outstretched legs on our hurried way to somewhere else.

These moments reminded me of another place.  In Kathmandu, Nepal, one often sees people like these men, sitting upon street corners and occasionally on a rolling platform, propelled by  a stick, a wooden block and  the power of the arms.  “Namaste, Madam”, he said to me with hands pressed together.  “Namaste”, I said, returning his smile.  I thought about him many times through the years and I often wondered about his thoughts of a Canadian woman with a baby on her back, who only stopped with pleasantries and a smile.

It was ten years later when we would meet again and still, I would not recognize the message and meaning behind our encounters.  But this time, I chose, instead to sit with him at the curbside and share a couple of coffees and precious time. With the security guard of the neighboring bank acting as a translator, I learned that even a legless beggar  rises up, moves forward and works to be alive.  Somewhere within the filthy streets, chaotic traffic, sacred cows and the wanderers of the earth, my new friend managed to put three children through University.

I guess that I am also afflicted by lust of the wanderer.  Currently, I step in and out of the conscious awareness of what just happened in my Life. It is only now within my memories do I see him as a messenger.  A man without legs and prayer hands held together, gently telling me that the “spirit within him honors the spirit within me”.  A man without legs reminds me that I must rise up and stand again despite the absence in my life.  Not the absence of limbs but a heart that has been cut out, still beating but not part of the body.

When I turn up the road, the same sickness in the belly can be conjured quicker than it takes to blink the eyes.  Flashing lights.   An unrecognizable car.  A child screaming.  Scrap metal still- billowing- with- smoke.  Fragmented snapshots.  An assault on the senses.

Do you know what it means to come undone? To be consumed by darkness? To lose the very light that shines from behind the eyes?

Be kind.  We are in this together.  Each one of us has a story.

One might have to ask the bearded man why they call him the Prophet, if it isn’t already clear.  I’ve explored the questions and what has resonated most is the notion that the worth of a man could be summed by how much of his own life he is willing to give to help another.  A sentimental father whom gives up his own freedom and fortune so his children can raise their children in a manner which he holds dear to his heart.   A man who gives away his precious time and money to tend to an ill and  grieving mother while he is grief stricken himself.  A soldier willing to fight for our freedom, despite the threat of paying with his life.

What about the worth of the lives of our beautiful children, unsuspectingly fractured from this existence?  Does not the absence of youthful vitality, laughter, innocence and dreams,  paradoxically illuminate that which it means to be alive?

How could we possibly remain bitter and waste that which they have tragically lost? The sweetness of Life. The absolute sacrifice.

Let her fire ignite the spirit within.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” ― Pliny the Elder