Though not as popular as June, September is a big month for weddings. Maybe it's the added bonus of an end-of-summer celebration, an ushering in of cooler and crisper days, and the opportunity to feature rich, warm colors at the ceremony and reception.
But two joyous and much-anticipated weddings scheduled for this past weekend -- one in North Carolina, the other in New York -- will now never take place. Ever.
Separate tragedies left one young bride without her groom and another young groom without his bride.
Early last Saturday morning in Raleigh -- a clear and sunny day -- Christopher Raynor, who worked in construction, was on his way with two of his favorite buddies for a final single-guy breakfast before tying the knot at 11 o'clock with his fiance, school teacher Karen Taylor. No doubt in high spirits, they rode in the best man's car -- Raynor in the back.
Just at that moment, James Howard Early was headed toward a busy intersection with a yellow light. Maybe he was running late, maybe not, but for some reason he went sailing -- or bombing -- through after the light turned red and crashed into the groom's car as it was driving across to the other side.
The impact threw Raynor from the vehicle and another car, just passing by, ran over him.
Raynor died instantly. Instead of a wedding, family and friends arrived at the church to attend a hastily assembled memorial service.
That same morning, at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, police were scouring a medical school laboratory for clues to the disappearance four days earlier of Annie Le -- the pharmacology doctoral student was to marry her sweetheart Sunday morning on Long Island.
While some initially speculated she had developed cold feet, those who knew her well said that wasn't possible. But she had not been seen since Tuesday morning, when surveillance cameras recorded her going into the research building but never coming out.
During the time when she would have been seeing to the final preparations for her nuptials with Jonathan Widawsky, a graduate student at Columbia, police discovered bloody clothing behind ceiling tiles in one of the labs.
On Sunday -- her special day -- they found her body stuffed behind a wall in the building's basement. As of this writing, the police are believed to have a suspect, someone she may have known, in her murder.
Sadly, these kinds of tragedies happen with such regularity that after we recover from our initial shock -- how could that Raleigh driver have been so careless and that New Haven killer so merciless -- we watch them vanish from the headlines and life, as always, goes on.
Is there anything to be learned from these so-unexpected, so-unpredictable disasters? These terrible events that happen on the eve of what would have and should have been the happiest days in the life of the victims and their betrothed?
Some often take away from such stories a reminder to cherish every moment of every day because our future could be taken away from us at any time. But even then, and rather quickly, we forget, and once again we take our own life and especially those of our loved ones for granted, expecting them always to arrive when they say they will.
The more practical will simply argue that Raynor might have survived the car crash if he'd been wearing a seat belt or that Le might have been able to fight off her attacker if she'd been carrying a weapon. (One Website really did see in this situation an opportunity to defend a gun-toting America.)
Such tragedies do cause me to reflect on how people and events can suddenly come into our life -- lives that feel so carefully organized, controlled and safe -- and turn everything upside down, whether by design or accident.
But mostly, such catastrophes leave me speechless. On a practical level, I can remind myself never to run a red light and to proceed cautiously into an intersection. I could become more wary of strangers and even the people I know, but what an appalling way to exist in this world.
Journalists report on such events with the detached air of one who is simply paid to inform the community of a loss, in the same way they write up the latest political and economic news.
Theologians and other religious leaders provide their own explanations, or at least try to comfort survivors and others suffering from the loss.
Some people might see in these terrible events a reason not to believe in a God, an all-knowing, all-seeing deity who would nevertheless let this kind of suffering go on; others might see in it a reason to believe -- that despite our weaknesses and frailties and mistakes -- there is a creator who loves us.
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