This is reposted from my blog, Notes from Vancouver.
Jack Layton died this morning. He was 61 years old.
I was listening to CBC Radio’s Early Edition in my kitchen in Coquitlam. It was 5:30 am. I felt a wave of vague sadness, the way I always do when I hear that someone I know, or know of, has died. I know that people die every day. There’s a person dying right now, somebody’s mother, father, daughter, son, grandparent. People are dying on the streets of Syria, fighting for the freedoms that I casually take for granted here.
The world keeps turning, but the death of one person ripples outward into the world, touching the lives of strangers like feathers on their skin, while brutally ripping into the flesh of those closest to the dead person like a steel-spiked flail. I often forget how soft and vulnerable I am under my tailored clothes, my dress shirts and shoulder pads giving some semblance of stability to my sense of the world as a structured, orderly place. Maybe that’s why I never feel at ease in business clothes.
I sometimes wonder about the day someone I love will die. In my third year of university, a friend’s grandmother died. I had met her grandmother in the summer of my first year, during a visit to Paris. I stayed at their house and ate her grandmother’s delicious food, celebrated my birthday with her singing Happy Birthday to me in Spanish. I didn’t know how to console my friend, because death had never torn my flesh the way it does when it’s someone you love dearly. She was devastated. She stopped caring about classes, stopped swimming at the pool, and stopped socializing with a lot of people except the very essential ones. As my online mentor Dear Sugar on the Rumpus would say, she was on another planet- Planet My Grandmother Died. I felt guilty sometimes talking with her, living my normal life on planet Earth, eating breakfast and checking Facebook and worrying about papers while she stared blankly out the window and said things like, “I know this sounds terrible, but sometimes I wish this would happen to other people, so they would know how it feels.”
It could be that my analogy of a loved one’s death as a steel-spiked flail ripping into soft, vulnerable flesh is completely wrong. I may read back on this entry later on today, or tomorrow, or several years from now when something dreadful has indeed happened, and realize that it was silly of me to even speculate on how it could feel on Planet My _____ Died. I can only write this crude homage as an outside observer, and feel a tinge of sadness at the death of others like a feather tickling the back of my hand.