I am sitting under an overzealous ceiling fan, listening to the ambient noise of hushed voices and artistry. We are celebrating my youngest daughter’s 12th birthday at a pottery painting place. We’ve been here more times than I can count. I have finally reached the birthday that allows me to take a backseat in the creative process, which is good because I can’t paint. And I don’t like to. Past birthdays here ended in tears and black smudges in all the wrong places. I would inevitably spend $148 to go home with a ceramic hamster that looked a little too much like Michael Jackson. I have a drawer full of them.
But tonight is different. Tonight I am letting my two girls, my niece, and a friend do their thing, while I do mine. And my thing is to write.
It has been a strange week. On Sunday morning, a helicopter went down in Calabasas, CA and immediately took the lives of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, and Ara Zobayan. On Sunday afternoon, my 15-year-old son came into the family room looking devastated and told me the news.
On Tuesday, I woke up thinking about the 9 victims, seven of whom were unknown to the world until they became a tragic headline. I had been thinking about them for days. I woke up with words in my head in that velvety pre-dawn darkness before my alarm had sounded and sunk back into another half hour of sleep. Sometime after 10 a.m., with laundry steadily thumping in my attic, I sat down to write. I didn’t think I’d still have the words in my head from earlier that morning, because falling back asleep usually kills it. But oddly enough, the words flowed quickly and I typed out The Seven Others. Thirty minutes later, I thanked God for it and ran down my stairs to grab lunch before I headed out the door.
I continued to think about the victims, but I didn’t think any more about the post. Until much later.
It got shared a few times on Facebook. And then a few more times. And by Thursday night, a lot of people had read it. Like more than a million. Usually when I say a million, it’s hyperbole. It has never been literal. And to prove I’m telling the truth, my stats on this blog for the week of January 20-27 were 35. Thirty five people popped over for whatever reason entered their mind. And my previous post, The Shots you Don’t Take, got 77 reads the day I wrote it.
That just lets you know how big a star Kobe Bryant was. His wing span stretched all the way to Temple Terrace, FL, where some very average people were wishing Sunday’s accident had never happened. And as if by Laker magic, that blog post took off.
Like. TOOK. OFF.
On an average day, I get about 4 emails. Probably 3 of them are from Aeropostale. Absolutely all of them want me to purchase something. My phone stays pretty quiet. Not this week. This week I received hundreds of messages. Some of them made me laugh. Some of them accused me of cashing in on others’ suffering. (I assure you there is no cash in a readership of 35 and no forethought that the readership would be anything but that.) Some of them were laced with the raw grief of the writer’s own pain from a story only they have lived. Some of them wondered why I hate old people, more specifically Betty White.
So because I am low on sleep and high on observations, I will finish this out in bullet point style.
I don’t hate elderly people. At all. And I don’t wish them dead. Not one bit. I’m sure Kirk Douglas is still having great conversations with family and friends and he will be missed when he does pass on. He’s also seen some pretty major changes in the world, from cars, to planes, to smart phones. Betty White is funny and full of life. She dances better at 98 than I could at 20. I haven’t watched her much since Golden Girls, because I’m a little too prudish for the bawdy nature of certain shows. My own grandparents lived well into their 90s and my mother died at 74. If I could have given her 20 more years, you can be quite sure I would have. I love old people. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to be one someday.
America doesn’t think other types of accidents and deaths are less important or less sad than the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter. But this one was deeply shocking because it killed one of the more brilliant NBA stars to ever play and along with him, it killed moms and dads and young girls on their way to an innocuous, family-friendly weekend tournament.
Each one of the 9 people had such an extensive network of fans, family, teammates, staff, players, and friends, that the arm of grief seemed a little longer and the grip a little tighter than some of the stories we hear.
The world is full of good people. To this point in my life, I haven’t suffered like the Bryants or the Mausers or the Chesters or the Altobellis. But I certainly confirmed this week that many, many people have. People wrote me, identifying with this tragedy. One had lost their father in a fire when they were 7. Some had lost husbands or wives to cancer and then quietly leaned into the business of raising their small children without a spouse. Some had lost children to cancer or to sudden, horrific accidents. Most of these had a story to tell about the people that rallied around them in their darkest hour. Many of them have gone forward, dedicated to rallying around others.
These were the disjointed thoughts I was peacefully typing inside You Do the Dishes, away from all of the water and paint, when my older daughter, the same age as the girls who died on Sunday, walked up and held out the top of a ceramic box that she was making for her best friend at school.
I was so close…
“It’s ruined,” she said, trying to control the trembling in her voice. I looked at it, hoping to disagree with her and convince her that she was overreacting. But no, it was truly ruined. She had attempted to paint “bff” in black cursive letters. It looked like she had used the tube of 1988 Clinique mascara that we had found in my mother’s train case when she died. They were more lava rock than letters.
I spent the next hour, until the moment the place closed for the night, helping her redo those letters so she would have a gift for a friend she thinks so highly of. When we finished the grueling task, I’m not sure we were exactly proud of our work. But we weren’t embarrassed either, and the almost-tears of the hour before had turned to laughter and solution-based thinking, however shaky it was.
At the end of a week full of both sorrow and joy, I still hate ceramic. And I hate painting. But I love my daughters and, if I’ve learned nothing else this week, I’ve learned to live for the things that last and the people that matter.
This was a little of both.