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Death and Dying

22 Apr

— Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee…

The past week has been one filled with the grimmest news. The Boston bombing set loose a terror and fear that hasn’t been known in this country for a decade. H7N9 creeped its way around China, its fingers of gloom and darkness weaving a net of uncertainty that none can escape from. The fertilizer plant in Waco pushed its way on stage, announcing death in loud booms and brilliant fireballs. Even the earth trembled, and sent ripples of its fear through Sichuan… Out of hundreds of death this week, only one I was able to mourn properly – the death of the fruit truck owner at 34th and Walnut, who was savagely stabbed to death early Thursday morning.

As I stood at the corner of 34th and walnut, I pictured his fruit truck, the strip of yellow background with red words, FRUIT SALAD. It had been so much part of the landscape at that street corner that its absence felt like something much bigger, like the mowing down of a building, or the demolition of a landmark. Only Tuesday I had stood at this corner, on my way to get coffee at Starbucks, debating whether my new diet allowed me to have both a latte and a fruit salad for lunch. And now, at the same corner I stand, but somehow the world has changed… Changed because hundreds of colorful lives had been taken, changed because hundreds of visions of the future had disappeared, changed because many who’ve been worrying about their weight or new hairstyle or work now mourn the loss of loved ones…
As I wandered aimlessly under the greying sky and chilly spring wind, as I waited mindlessly for the arrival of a spring shower, I imagined the life of this man, who is no more. A Vietnamese immigrant they said he was. Why did he immigrate? What had he left behind? No doubt he was seeking a new life for his family, better opportunities, more freedom. Did his dream come true? Is he proud of his children, who no doubt received a western education? Is he disappointed that the heritage of his roots is lost? Does he miss home? Would he rather have died on the piece of land that gave him birth? In the face of death, these wishes and worries seem so trivial…

The empty space usually occupied by his fruit truck was like a hole in my heart, reminding me of what was and what is no more. Sight is a powerful aid, without it, news is just news, unrelated, unreal…

They said one of the girls that died in the Boston bombing was Chinese. Her family wishes her identity be kept secret, but the frantic search for her among Chinese students in the hours after the bombing meant that her name has been passed and shared in social media. I was one of thousands of spectators of her search and death, I saw her friends’ desperate posts, saw the many speculations, even shared a post looking for her. After her death was confirmed, I visited her Facebook page out of morbid curiosity, like 5000 other visits her page received that day. She was a pretty girl, like the spring blossoms that erupted so forthfully and joyfully at the beginning of this week. And now she has gone back to dust, like the many flowers that will after this storm. We shared mutual friends, I didn’t even know, but not altogether surprising. We were the same age, we went to college in Beijing. In 2008, we went to university together, adapting to the same city, far away from home. In 2012 we traveled to America together, getting to know the same country. We share a generation and a life. But she is gone and I am here. A stroke of luck, a twist of fortunes.
I think of her parents, who are now in America, facing the death of their only child. That pain I cannot relate to, but I can imagine, and even the unrealistic imaginations seem to punch me in the stomach and leave me winded and gasping for breath. The two suspects have been caught. Soon justice will be executed and this drama forgotten, left behind. The world returns to normal. But the many long days and nights are theirs to face. No one can sympathize, none can help. Their life had been so normal, now it is forever a tragedy.
I heard one of her friends say she’d been attending a bible study regularly, yet has not made a declaration of faith. Where is she on her walk of faith with God? In death no answers can be sought.
This is as close to death as I’ve been this week. The death of a fruit truck owner, the death of a friend of a friend. As a spectator, my sadness, my tears, almost don’t count. My life goes on, what more can I do? I can’t comfort grieving mothers, I can’t make the lame walk, that is the task of the One and Only, the Almighty and Great Creator. I am just an on-looker in this drama of life and death, good against evil, helpless, hopeless, lost.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth… The Lord will keep you from all harm, He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore… I wonder if those now buried beneath the ground had trusted these promises. I wonder if their grieving families find solace in these words… I wonder as I wander, but there can be no answers.
Perhaps as the living we stand helpless against death. We can only resolve to live hard, to live with integrity and motivation, to live out the life of Don Ly as he would’ve wanted it, carefully husbanding family and business; to live out the life of Lingzi as she would’ve wanted it, to learn and to love and to marry and laugh. Their life is lost, but their liveliness is still here. Now we all bear a portion of it, share a responsibility in it, to live good, and well, and honestly. We owe it to them to oversee the carriage of justice, and the evolution of society in areas of education and welfare, so that the orphaned and widowed and childless are cared for. Every death is a burden, every death is a reminder, every death bell tolls for all mankind… Let none forget.
 

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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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