We often forget that life is short, because it’s also the longest thing we’ll ever do. We tend to think we’re invincible and that we have all the time in the world. We take every breath for granted and we expect the people in our lives to remain a part of it forever. We easily forget our mortality. We easily forget our fragility. We easily forget that we are not in control of time or circumstance. We forget how fleeting life can be; how precious and how volatile. We forget how easily we can seize to be.
In my 10th grade year of high school a classmate of mine was stabbed to death after school and the following day, I was devastated. I knew this boy; sat next to him in class, joked around with him. Talked about nothing and copied each others work. We weren’t close, but we were classmates. We knew each other. He was a part of life at school for me. And then when he was gone, i felt his absence. I cried for him and his family. I hurt for the future he wasn’t going to have. I mourned for the boy that he was. The next two years, walking the halls at school, I’d sometimes recognize him in someone else. I’d remember a time when he was alive. He was a ghost that didn’t disappear for me and I barely knew him, I can’t imagine what his loved ones went through. If he could stay with me for so long, if i could mourn him so fully, i couldn’t imagine the pain they were going through.
The following year my cousin died in a car crash. I didn’t know him very well either. We sort of grew up together like cousins do, you see them for holidays and special days and vacation sometimes. He was older than me so he was closer with my older brother and he and I had nothing in common. So i didn’t know him very well. He was just family. But when he died, I immediately remembered and became fixated on the only time he and I ever hung out. We just walked to a pizza joint by my house, ordered a large pizza and he scarfed down most of the pizza by himself. I remember fighting over the last slice and acting like i was irritated when really i was full but having fun fighting with him. I haven’t gone back to that pizza place after his death. We weren’t close at all, but he stayed with me too. I barely knew him but i think about him all the time. He wasn’t a big part of my life but still I hurt for him and I mourn him all the time.
A couple years back I read a news story about a boy who had been brutally murdered by gang members wielding machetes in NYC. The boy was just at the corner store by his house when the group mistook him for someone else and proceeded to attack him with machetes in broad daylight. The story shocked and reeled me. Immediately I was devastated. I remember going home and climbing under my covers and crying all day for him. For what he experienced, for his family and for his lost potential. I mourned him too. I was in deep pain for someone i had never met. It didn’t make sense to me; i didn’t understand why i felt so deeply about it. I honestly didn’t even feel i had a right to mourn him BECAUSE i didn’t know him. But still, there I was crying for this boy, and I carried his death with me too. As if he’d been my brother. As if I knew him.
In June of last year I stopped at a coffee shop before going to work and a picture in a newspaper drew my attention. I picked it up and read the article attached to it only to quickly fall apart. It was an image of two limp bodies lying face down on the edge of a river. One was an older man and the other, his 2 year old daughter. The man, the article identified as Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter’s name was Valeria. They both died trying to cross the border into the United States from Mexico. The article didn’t say much about who they were or how they died, but the image and their names alone were enough to bring me to tears moments before I was expected to be at work. I broke down. I was in a coffee shop in public hyperventilating. It was embarrassing and unnecessarily dramatic. I felt stupid for overreacting to a news story. I was overtaken with grief for the death of the two. I knew nothing about them, hadn’t even seen their faces, only their limp backs on the edge of a river and still, i mourned them.
Finally, in August of last year I read about a Disney Channel star who suddenly died of an aneurysm. He was young and from what i read from his loved ones, he was a kind soul. I never watched any shows with him in it, he was popular after my time. But still i mourned him as if I knew him. I cried watching videos of him from his loved ones. I hurt for his mother, father and sister. I was in deep grief because of his early sudden death and lost potential. I broke down for him.
These are all moments of grief that have stayed with me. Moments that i didn’t understand and feelings that to me made no sense. Every time, i felt i didn’t have the right to feel so deeply about them because of my lack of proximity to them. Even with my cousin and classmate, i felt i had no right to feel so deeply about their deaths. But they were all tragedies that ended precious life sooner than expected. Tragedies that impeded people from growing into themselves and seeing life through till old age. Lives lost too soon. Young humans who didn’t make it to my current age. Journeys cut short. Dreams unrealized. Stifled potential.
And so today, when I’m once again overtaken with grief for nine more strangers whose lives were needlessly cut short by tragic events, I’m reminded of all those I’ve mourned in this manner before. Today I once again broke down at the news of the sudden death of a basketball player, his daughter and seven other people in a helicopter crash. Nine more people I never met. Nine more people i wasn’t close to. Nine more people i knew nothing about. But still, I mourned them. I shut myself in my room and cried for them. Still, i was heartbroken for them. And the more I read about the families they've left behind, the more hurt I become. These people had families that they left behind abruptly. They had friends that are left heartbroken. They had whole lives.
Grief doesn’t make much sense to me. It’s an animal I cannot begin to describe, let alone decipher. I don’t understand it, but still, i feel it. I experience it. I let it overtake me and I ride it out. It’s odd and crazy to me, but it reminds me of how precious life is. It drives me to venerate existence. It helps me appreciate all that comes with every breath I take. And helps me remember just how short life can be. This week i mourn for the lives of those who we would’ve expected to live longer. For those who didn’t make it because of outside forces. Those with family and friends that are probably at a loss for how to live life without them. For those that had a whole life ahead of them. For those that didn’t get a chance to fulfill their dreams. Those who were taken too soon. Today I mourn. Today I grieve. And if you're like me, if you too grieve for strangers, I say let it happen and know that it's okay. I think it's a part of life. It's a part of what makes us human. This is what happens when you live in a world full of people. This is empathy. It's okay.
Thank You, Carmen Hernandez