“He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Two boys from our local high school were swept into the ocean and drowned this afternoon while attending one of the first social events for the annual Mr. Axeman competition. Their friends stood by on the beach and saw them swept away, powerless to save them. It is impossible to imagine the mixed intensity of grief, terror and guilt that the survivors shared or the sense of tragic and senseless loss that ripples through our community.
Every parent’s worst nightmare is the sudden loss of their child and in our community, these are rare accidents of nature or sometimes personal crisis turned suicidal. The gravity of accidental death makes you reconsider the number of deaths of young boys that are deliberate, a result of one’s nationality, home address or government conflicts. Losing our children, lovers, or friends is a powerful fuel for the belief in enemies. Military conflicts are nothing but loss generators and the score-keeping that reflects the deaths of so many, offers nothing of the real tragedy that comes to define the family and community experience.
How to make sense of death come-to0-soon is the challenge for those left behind. Proust reflects the shock and disbelief at our loss: “We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.”
The only thing there is time for in this life is to love. We realize how urgent the task is when death visits us, stealing the time we thought we were assured. The boys were full of promise and potential, all forward motion. Caught by a huge and unforgiving wave of chance, where does all that wonder, energy and possibility go? It does not disappear or end, but transforms all who remain and remember. We each hold their promise more closely and we are awakened to the briefness of life.
The last moments of life are only concerned with who we loved and who loved us back. This is the only memory that matters when we are forced to let go and carry on. I don’t know how the annual pageant of high school boys will be able to move forward within this tragedy. I don’t know how these families’ hearts will mend or how the community can help to hold the grief. Tonight, and I imagine for days forward, these boys will be held tightly in the present moment.
The only positive thing that can be gleaned from death is the love that created the life and the love that will keep its memory forever.