A classmate, a few grades above me, was killed in the jungles of Viet Nam while Viet Nam was just a “police action.” A beloved aunt, too young, died of breast cancer; my grandparents, one-by-one, died of old age. JFK shot down in Dallas, RFK in Los Angeles, MLK in Memphis. These were tragedies that punctuated my life, gave me pause to contemplate mortality, justice, the nature of God and fate, the meaning of existence.
But these events were hiccups in a life otherwise occupied with being, doing, planning, dreaming.
As I grow older, especially now, as I enter the middle of my sixth decade, my perspective on tragedy and crises has changed somewhat. I expect disaster now.
A beloved cousin succumbs to cancer; another bleeds to death because an emergency room doesn’t make a diagnosis in time to save him; an old friend takes his life in a moment of intense sorrow and hopelessness. And in the larger world, teenagers and young adults are gunned down in a theater; Sikhs are murdered in their temple; six-year-olds are massacred in their classroom; entire communities are ravaged by meth labs and drug addiction; wildfires and floods destroy the homes, hopes, and dreams of thousands of my fellow humans in my own backyard.
I find that death, disappointment, anxiety about loved ones, and genuine sadness in the face of events beyond my control are facts of life that spread themselves randomly across the days, weeks, months, and years. I try to eke out life as I wish it to be between the tragedies and crises; I am grateful in a numb sort of way when months go by without a death, an illness, a personal loss, or an horrific disaster somewhere. I am no longer complacent, no longer so oblivious to the slings and arrows of fortune—these are my burden to bear as a person in the world.
What is important to me now is making the most of the halcyon days between storms. An awareness of fleeting time, the vagaries of fortune, and the things over which I have more control, have given richness to the pacific moments. I cherish the quiet—no talking heads, no shrillness of breaking news, and no breathless accounts of celebrity misadventures.
The metallic buzz of a male broad-tailed hummingbird at the feeder, the cascading song of a canyon wren on the hill, the breeze in the juniper—those are the melodies and rhythms of life between crises.