There is a family in our community that recently lost their teenage daughter. I know them, but not very well. Today I saw the mother for the first time since the tragedy. She was working outside a youth sporting event, and I was bringing her some tape to hang up signs.
I wanted to tell her how sorry I was. Because I am sorry. Terribly sorry. But, by now, she’s probably heard the words, “I’m so sorry” 984 times. And, after a while, what do they mean? “You’re sorry. That’s great. Meanwhile, I don’t have my child.” Then I thought about telling her about my friend who lost his son on Sept. 11. I was going to tell her how he still feels his presence; how he sees signs from him almost every day. But why would she want to hear that? Maybe it sounds like nonsense. Or some self-soothing mumble jumble. I reconsidered. I’d wait for a moment alone and just give her a hug. But why would she want a hug from me? Who the fuck am I? Just some guy. And am I hugging her for her sake, or for mine? Do we do these things to make the other person feel better, or so we feel better about doing something to make the other person feel better? There would be no hug.
This plagued my. Like really, really plagued me. And I thought and thought and thought and thought, thousands of things popping off in my brain during a 10-minute drive. And as I pulled up to the school I decided this is what I’d say: I hurt for you. My family hurts for you. And the one thing I keep returning to is that, unfairly, your loss has inspired me. Because when I think of what you’ve gone through—which is probably more often than you might imagine—I think about how stupid all these worries are. Deadlines. Articles. Getting to the gym. Where are the books I ordered? Why are there so many crickets in my kitchen. The damn hose broke. I have to drive one kid to baseball and the other to water polo. Making those stinking lunches in the morning. They’re just space fillers, and they take away from the legitimate beauty of life. I need to look at my children and appreciate them, and squeeze them, and love them, and tell them I love them, because this whole existence thing is painfully fleeting, and painfully unpredictable. And your tragedy—unfair to the core—is a wake-up call that life is to be lived, not taken for granted. I hate hate hate hate that this has happened to you. You must feel like you’re living a bad dream. I wish there were a way to take that away from you. To remove the pain. But …
I arrived at the school.
I said, “I brought the tape!”
I handed her the tape.
Maybe that was enough.