I thought, there but for the grace of God, go I. Go we all.
Or words to that effect.
I thought it while reading a lengthy collection of information that police had submitted to obtain a search warrant in a recent St. John’s murder case.
It was a small part of the document, a section, really, about what we all become.
Investigators went to the hospital where the victim had been declared dead to collect four bags of his personal effects: as the dry language of the police report put it, “A plastic white and blue ‘Patient Belongings’ bag with white drawstring. Inside there was a brown paper bag, exhibits inside, striped blue piece of cloth.” Another “Patient Belongings” with a plastic bag containing a wallet and another bag containing a pair of brown Rockport shoes, and “two socks that were inside out.” A pair of jeans. Long johns. A belt. You can probably picture it: a sad, small collection indeed.
I know this is not traditional holiday fare — but maybe it should be, lest we take all of the good for granted.
Anyone who has had a close relative or parent pass away, and who has been charged with the responsibility for their personal effects, knows how pitifully small those effects actually are. The wristwatch their parent has always worn, a pair of creased and scuffed shoes, rings, a familiar sweater — every one of them something that you can remember as an integral part of the person you knew. But not the person. Even their familiar smell fades rapidly.
It’s a moment that hits home: a corporal presence has vanished, as if it simply shed all of its artificial, man-made layers and disappeared. It isn’t the end of mourning — no, it is the beginning, guaranteed to be followed by the complications and guilt and hollowness that rain down afterwards.
It’s also a reminder that we all will leave in exactly the same way, naked in the bodies we arrived in — and a reminder that none of us know precisely when that leaving will happen.
You’re here, near the end of this year, reading this. I am, too.
But there’s no telling if you, or I, will be at the end of the next one.
It’s a moment that hits home: a corporal presence has vanished, as if it simply shed all of its artificial, man-made layers and disappeared.
It’s all the more reason not to hold grudges or fight long-running battles over slights or imagined insults. All the more reason to not wait to do the things you want to do, and to make the most of the short spans of lives we’re lucky enough to have. All the more reason to see and hear and taste and smell and live and love, for every single day you can.
You might not be the victim of an armed robbery — you might have a heart attack, or an automobile accident, or meet up with any number of other life-ending medical issues. You don’t know if you’ll wake up tomorrow.
I mean, you could go on into 2018 like every other day, putting one foot in front of the other, bitter as always and watching days tick off your personal clock.
But if you do, stop, stand up, and take an inventory of the things you’re wearing right now that would be left behind. For me, shirt, shoes, socks. Underwear, glasses, belt and rings. Keys, wallet, and a company cellphone with a number that will probably quickly be assigned to someone else. It’s a painfully short list, a grocery store bag’s worth and nothing more.
Oh, and the fading, soon-to-be-ephemeral regrets that we will no longer have any chance to undo.
It’s almost a new year. Make something of it, would you?