It was lightly raining as we pulled out of the parking lot onto the dark country road. Bare tree limbs blowing in the windy northern remnants of a southern hurricane. A balmy November night.
The funeral home had been crowded. So many people milling about, mumbling in their hushed tones. Waiting in line to pay their respects. Shuffling past collages on poster boards. Photo after photo of a fiery red-headed girl who had grown up in the age of insta-pics all day long.
Shannon saw herself in some of the photos. She talked quietly about the day each one was taken. Remembering those moments in elementary school. Not so long ago. She pulled out her phone and snapped photos of the photos. To keep.
On the long ride out to the country she had shared a few memories of Zoey’s bright spirit. The one that touched me most was the image of two tiny little girls sitting in the school auditorium. Zoey was listening to music on an iPod and asked if Shannon wanted to listen too. They sat there together, on the hard wooden chairs, each with one headphone in their ear, listening as Chris Ballew sang ‘Moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches’. Shannon thinks of Zoey every time she hears that song. Now I will too.
As we headed home on the winding country roads, Shannon skipped the sadder songs on the playlist. I was grateful for that.
‘It doesn’t feel real’ she said. ‘It’s like it’s not real,’ we both agreed.
As we drove through the fog, she laid it out clearly for me. ‘You never know. You never know what’s gonna happen.’
‘I know,’ I replied, holding back tears. ‘You say goodbye as your kid drives away from the house, and they never come back.’
‘Or you send them to school,’ she said, ‘and they get shot… Or the mall… Or the movies.’
‘Or even church,’ I add.
‘Or they get hit walking across the street,’ she said. ‘Anywhere.’
Anything could happen. You never know.
This isn’t a revelation to any 19 year old. They have known this their whole lives. It has been reinforced time and time again. Fire drills. Lock down drills. Shelter in place. Metal detectors. Know your exits. Be aware. Be informed. Breaking news in the palms of their hands. Be alert. Anything could happen, anytime.
It’s a lesson we all learn over and over again. Nothing is promised. Everything is temporary. The earth is continuously spinning and the ground beneath us is constantly shifting.
There is nothing we can be sure of, except this present moment. This moment is the only certain thing. This moment is the only thing that’s real.
The scariest thing about this life is that anything could happen in the next moment. Anything could happen.
But, that is also the most exciting thing about this life. Anything can happen! Wonderful, amazing things can also happen. It’s a two-sided coin. We have to remember both sides.
At all times we must be aware of both sides. In the saddest of times we must remember the possibilities. In the happiest times we must remember the impermanence.
We have to hold on loosely to all things, and find a way to live in that delicate balance between anything could happen, and anything can happen.
That balance will enable us to find the peace, the gratitude, the contentment, and perhaps the joy in this moment. This one promised moment.
Ski on, Zoey. May the brightness and brevity of the life you lived inspire others to fully live theirs. Every moment.