There is a bridge between life and death. It’s called breath. Thin, weak, undirectional. Only visible for the minutes or seconds during which what’s left of faint air in lungs crosses over.
That other side of this bridge is called many things, depending on faith or disbeliever beliefs, or what’s useful personally or politically. But condolences usually name it “passing.” Acknowledgment of journey, even if destination unknown. Passing. Acknowledgement of motion, certainly with destination unclear, foggy.
We who watch this bridge called breath take its leave, taking those we love, are are honored and humbled to be present with our bon voyages. Too many these days are not allowed such farewells. Yellow caution tape is crisscrossed between them and their beloved, so those called police can stand sentry over the body they sent off, or families must hear, in a circular route that never ends, words like “I can’t breathe.”
There is no comparison.
So this is why we fight against the building of ghostly bridges, too soon, too young, too racist. This is why people block bridges, marking out lanes of pain and sorrow and irreplaceable loss.
I’m lucky. Today, January 19, is a mere, forever-long month past the solitary last breath of someone I loved — I love still, always: Mary. She traversed lightly from one side to the other, and I was there, touching hand, holding in my own breath, witness to what would become silence. I was lucky.
But this I know, of all deaths, all too well. There is no return. Not for that person you loved, of course, but not for you either. You are freighted with them, a piece of you at least, secreted away without your own knowledge or consent or understanding.
The you that is you is no longer you — not like it was before — though a new you follows, doggedly, a stray, astray, even if you feel at standstill. Or a new you, more accurately, looks back, bewildered, on what can’t be crossed over again, what crosses you.
There is now, this time, a flatness to the world, a grayness. I am far from alone in this, certainly, at this historical moment. A cold chill passes too many. Still, it has an alone quality, the border erected by death.
For love lost has no measure, nothing that can be mapped, except that this love, this new lost one for thirty days now, filled out a whole landscape that is suddenly devastated, laid waste, making a refugee of heart already displaced.
(Photo by Cindy Milstein, urban wall, 2015.)