I just found out Sunday that the brother of an old friend died on New Year's day. 3.a.m., the ceremonial moment, old year out, new year in, 3 hours past. He was the father of a 6 year old boy, and a young husband. Apparently, the police labeled it as "mis-handling of a firearm". He was in his late 20s.
A 27 year old friend was charged with manslaughter. He made the 911 call to the police; apparently no one thought this was anything but an accident. I imagine one minute they were laughing together, goofing on the whole thing, "put your hands up!" or some such idiot phrase, the trigger pulled...one young man's life ended by a bullet, the other young man's life forever compromised.
One moment. Jerking the wheel too far to the left, talking on the cell phone, putting in the password for voice-mail---eyes off the road for seconds. Galloping down the stairs to do laundry, foot missing one step by less than an inch, tumbling down, neck broken. We live in precarious balance, and if we faced our fragility in each moment, we would be unable to bear it. Every second would be fraught with a sense of panic or preciousness. NO one would get anything done (and after all, we are Americans. It's Un-American not to get things done).
In my Buddhist training, I was taught that both hope and fear constitute a type of imprisonment. Either way, we're locked into a mode of prediction, a sense of how we long for it to be, what we feel we need...or a dread of what might happen, what we believe would be unbearable. I've learned to, over and over, sit with not-knowing. Boredom, lust, sleepiness, shopping lists, painful knees, "how much longer do I have to sit here before they ring the bell?" It has been good training. And, through the training, I've learned that as long as I continue in human form, I'll be dancing between hope and fear. I've learned to give myself permission and the space to feel both, to feel compassion for myself and every other human who goes through this dance. To feel my own broken heart, and let my heart break for all others, and for this sad and beautiful world. I know what moments of clarity look like. I know how it feels to, for a series of moments, be present; colors blooming, no separation between foot and floor. Walking, walking. Sitting, eyes cast down, a few feet in front of me. Then, raising the gaze and finding the open field of sight. The way the light falls. The sound of my breathing. The dignified posture of those around me, sitting on their meditation cushions, practicing presence. All before me is part of me.
Tonight, I am with my friend and her family as they mourn. They're far away, but I imagine their faces, their cries, their devastation. My friend without her only sibling now. They won't grow old together. When their parents are gone, my friend will remember them alone; no other child of theirs to reminisce with. No one to remember the birthdays the vacations the family secrets and joys. A mother without her boy. A son who, only too soon, will not know if he's having a memory of his dad, or re-living someone else's snapshot story he's been told.
One moment of carelessness. How many of us will find that threshold, cross it, and be gone?