A week ago this morning, I set myself up on my deck with a cup of coffee, the day’s newspaper, and my computer, thinking I would catch up on the news and do some writing. Then I opened my Facebook feed to find a post that seemed so impossible I thought someone had hacked a friend’s FB page as a prank. I was wrong. As the post reported, the oldest son of dear friends from college was killed at age 20 in a horrific five-car wreck on a highway in Pasadena, CA.
Stunned, I sat and cried. I am not sure how long I sat there. I called my husband (who was driving at the time) and my parents, but no one picked up. At some point I walked into the kitchen, and the next thing I knew I began to clean. Soon it was clear that I was not going to stop until I had dealt with every square inch.
Family members came in for something to eat and then left for various destinations. I found myself alone. I continued to clean, slowly, deliberately. If there were other things I was supposed to be doing that day, they didn’t come to mind. So I didn’t do them.
Every appliance, cup, and decorative tchotchke came off the counters. I chipped dried batter off cabinet doors with a plastic knife and scrubbed dirty cabinet insets with an old toothbrush. Piece by piece I took the food out of the refrigerator. After unhooking the refrigerator shelves and drawers, I scrubbed each one down in the sink.
Except for a couple of breaks to have something to drink and talk briefly on the phone, I cleaned until I looked up at the clock and saw that it was nearly 7 pm. I left the freezer and the kitchen floor undone, only because I was due at a fundraising event for the Nikhil Badlani Foundation – an organization that works in honor of a yet another young man lost too soon as a result of a dreadful car crash, the son of good friends, killed at the age of 11 five years ago. Yet another family dealing every day with the impossible made manifest.
That night I came home and wrote about JJ, about Nikhil, about everything. I sat at my computer and poured out a pile of words. However, I don’t know what they said, because I cannot find them. I have looked in every folder and electronic location, I have used every possible keyword in a search, I have scoured the “open recent” lists. I must not have saved the document. Or did I just imagine that I wrote at all? Were thoughts rolling around in my head in such a way that I became convinced I put them down on a page?
Trying to remember what I wrote, all I come up with is the gist of it, in three words: I am thrown.
Thrown into agitation such that all I could do to calm myself was scrub things for six hours. Thrown into confusion such that I cannot even remember whether an idea ended up on a page or was just a thought in my head. Thrown into shock, with sadness hovering nearby like a hungry animal, waiting for an unoccupied moment to pounce on and possess. Just thrown.
Over the last few years, I’ve said many times that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. I have been saying this partly for myself, wanting the repetition to help me grasp the concept. Secretly I’ve been hoping to be proven wrong, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. Do your best to seize the day, my friends, even when you are thrown. Seize the hour, seize a moment, for that matter. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, what might we do with our wild and precious moments? We could work to cure cancer. We could hug our favorite people. Or we could clean the kitchen. It's all good.