Til death do us part
Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go… What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?
It was Friday at the start of an unseasonably fine and beautiful spring weekend. My wife and I had been out on afternoon errands in the car and had swung by a local shopping arcade close by a favoured Nepalese restaurant.
Before us was an unusual scene, which took some time to process.
Parked in the pedestrian crossing at the entrance to the car park was a large white delivery truck. To the front and side was an ambulance, a police van and a firetruck. People stood in the carpark in small groups saying nothing. Upon closer inspection, a white sheet had been hung between the ambulance and the truck.
Whatever had happened had already happened, but not long before and whatever it was, it was an intensely private and disturbing sight.
A child, a young girl not older than twelve had been on her way home and seeing a green light on the crossing, rode her bike unwittingly into the path of the van. A place of pedestrian unremarkableness was warped in that instance into something completely else.
I do not know this child’s name, but the newspaper reported her death later that day. I did not want to hear what my instinct already knew. Why could we, or anybody else for that matter have not been at the intersection instead and, seeing her, let her pass by, for the van to come after, complete his delivery and return to depot?
How can anyone make sense of this? The place will continue to remind me long after the candles, flowers and cards of remembrance have been cleared away.
It can never be erased.
Often on that impossibly bright and sunny weekend, I thought of her parents consumed in total darkness; also, of the van driver seared by the act of killing — his life and that of a child now extinguished, forever conjoined.
When I started writing this, I had already decided upon the theme some two weeks before. It began with the inadvertent death, of a blackbird which swung in front of my car as I exited a motorway ramp.
There is no equivalence between these two events except sudden death, but both illustrate with force the ever present randomness of life when the film is suddenly cut. I was able to perceive the bird in my peripheral vision and even touch the brake, but the intersection of bird and car was unavoidable.
The brief hope that it had survived was cancelled by the scene in the rear view mirror — a shattered explosion of grey feathers on the tarmac.
In that instant, I remember thinking of the life I had extinguished, of all the joy it would bring to the coming spring with its song now silenced forever. Both events; one deemed insignificant to many and the other, beyond my ability to process fully, are now joined, forever etched into my brain.
But there’s the thing; we are programmed not to forget black cat glitches in the Matrix — even Alzheimer’s patients occasionally experience moments of staggering clarity from the past before their consciousness shuffles back into the shadows.
All too often we are busy making future plans or processing past events as we go about our daily lives, but violent death as witnessed flattens time perception.
The start of this piece is headed by the quote by Sophie Scholl given minutes before she was executed in 1943 for her brave resistance to the Nazi war machine. Her perceptions fine tuned at that very moment illustrate the power of existence. If there is any meaning to death, particularly violent ones, it is their affirmation of life, its sanctity and fragility.
If thousands of us are awakened and stirred into action, it should be an awakening of our compassion — to live our lives more slowly, deliberately and truly savour the beauty of a bird in full song on a sunny day, to take nothing for granted and to hold everyone we love close by.