My New Year's resolution this year was to keep a blog again. The last time I did so was in 2008, when my dad was dying, and I found that writing about his illness helped organize my scattered thoughts. Today I was just going to write a quick note to say, hey, it's been ten years, how's it going, y'all? Maybe mention the cold weather and the joys of thermal underwear, which I was told are now called "base layers" by the good people of Paragon Sports, who chortled at my anachronistic word choice when I said, "Where would I find thermal underwear, please?" Proving once again that aging is the slow act of becoming one's parents. My father used the word nifty well beyond its lifespan, the same way I still say pot when everyone, according to my kids, now calls it weed, duh, Mom. And yet what I wouldn't give to hear nifty one more time.
But last night, as the new year approached, I learned that the friend of friend's son was killed in a plane crash in Costa Rica with his entire family: three brothers, a father, a mother. Awful to contemplate such a loss, no matter one's distance from the tragedy, but then this morning I realized that this boy's mother was from my hometown, Potomac, MD, and that I knew her. And now frankly it's all I can think about. I didn't know Irene Steinberg, née Ginsberg, well, but I knew her well enough to have traced her smile from the New York Times photo accompanying the news back to the halls of Winston Churchill High School, where we were classmates.
It's always unsettling when you hear of the death of someone you know or once knew but not well. My first response is usually to chastise myself for not having taken the time to get to know the person better, either back then or now. Irene of the early 80's was smart, kind, and friendly. We were in many of the same classes together. Why weren't we better friends? Irene of the present day is/was my Facebook friend. Couldn't I have wished her happy birthday on her wall now and then? Or reached out via messenger to say hi? The Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen confronts these confusing feelings head on, the way the death in a community can bring that community together, even under false pretenses, and even via those who only knew the deceased tangentially.
Shari, a mutual friend, posted a recent photo of Irene and her as adults, and in lieu of knowing what else to say or do in the wake of Irene's death, I simply wrote under Shari's photo, "I'm so sorry. Tragic, horrible news. Sending love." Shari, whom I know in the same way as I knew Irene, that is to say with fondness from years ago but today only tangentially, immediately wrote back, "Thanks Deborah. Irene, Francine and I have all found inspiration from your writing." And that's when I finally allowed myself to cry. I cried for Irene, for her family, and for their loved ones' unbearable loss. I cried because they have been denied the gift I so blithely made fun of, of becoming their parents and using out-of-date words. But I also cried because it was an important reminder that words--even the wrong ones, even those seemingly written into the void--matter.
This might sound cliché and prescriptive and as shopworn as nifty, but my base layer takeaway from this senseless tragedy as we head into the new year and take stock of what we'd like to do better is this: life is short; love deeply; cherish the present moment now, while you still have it; when in doubt, reach out; and never, ever, be afraid to use your words.
Stay warm, everyone.