I have had trouble sleeping recently, but this morning’s restlessness came from quite another source than the unclear reasons that have been making it difficult for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. Today I think I was subconsciously remembering the awful news I had woken up to yesterday. When I awoke around four this morning, I felt exhausted, but my mind was spinning too much to focus on drifting off again.
After an hour or so of non-exciting contemplation, I decided I was not going back to sleep despite the fact that I had gone to bed only a few hours before. So I got up, found my glasses, and crept downstairs as quietly as one can when one’s ancient house creeks and moans with every fraction of movement.
Gypsy was sitting on the rug in front of the front door. There is a narrow floor-length window between the entrance and the start of the stairs, at the bottom of which she usually sits and plots ways to escape and eat the birds that dare to fly past her outside, but today she was not facing the window, as though she had decided to show the birds that they were not good enough for her. As the stairs loudly announced my arrival, she turned to see who had come to join her, gave my hand a disinterested sniff when I offered it to her, then went back to her plotting. Smiling, I left her alone and looked out the window.
It was dawn, and the sun had barely begun its ascent into the sky. More often than not, the incomparable Arizona sky is the purest of blues; today, however, small monsoon clouds were stretched out across it as though someone had taken a paintbrush and swiveled it in the sky. Some were purple and foreboding in the early morning, others were streaked with pink and reflected the sun that was coming to grace us with its warmth. Save for the movement of Gypsy’s bird friends, all was still. The ground, waiting for sunlight, seemed ready and capable for whatever would come across it. Had I risked making the noise of an explosion by opening the front door, I imagine the air would not only have been hot (it is July in Arizona, after all), it would have been very fresh and new, not yet staled by the continued movement of the sun.
Gypsy had risen as I stood looking out the window and walked over to rub her head against my legs, mewing. Wordlessly I picked her up and held her to the window so she could see more than she could at ground level. Usually when I do this in the early morning she struggles until I put her down again, but today she must have caught sight of the sky, because almost at once she became uncharacteristically still. Suddenly her eyes weren’t big enough to capture all the beauty of the world outside and, I found as I turned back to the window, neither were mine.
There is something so striking about the start of a new day, something about it that makes me stop and reflect on happenstances and ideas that often come to my mind without me realizing I’m thinking them. Silence and stillness have a way of bringing suppressed thoughts to light. As Gypsy and I stood together – or rather, as I stood and she sat contentedly in my arms – and looked outside at the world that was beginning anew, I thought, as I so often do, of so many lives that are not here to witness the miracle that is an early morning. Little Ame Deal, a Phoenix girl whose horrific murder I have not forgotten to this day. Horses that I knew and were my dear friends that have moved on from this life to the next. Victims of war across the globe. Children who will not survive the planet’s daily dose of malnourishment or thirst or disease. And, more recently, the twelve moviegoers in Colorado who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Death that has occurred senselessly is something that cannot be understood. We can learn the motives behind the ones who were responsible for ending such sacred life, but death itself, brought about by emotion or mental sickness, is something no words can wrap around and describe. I humbly believe all we can reasonably do during times like these is simply bow our heads and thank whatever deity or energy or giver of life you believe in for allowing such life to exist, if only for such a short amount of time. Times like these strengthen my resolve to ensure that such tragedies don’t happen again and my desire to find solutions to unanswerable questions. But most of all, times like these just make me sit back and look at not individual threads of life, not bits and pieces of what is meant to be a larger picture, but the entire grand design of existence itself.
Life has a beautiful and mysterious way of always moving on. The lives of our fellow human beings are taken – often ripped – away every single day. And yet, although it seems cruel or unfair for it to do so, the world knows its responsibility is to keep on turning. It goes on gently but steadily, as though undeniably aware of our pain, yet forever reminding us that with each end there always exists another beginning.
Those who do not walk with us today are witnessing something far grander and far more beautiful than anyone on Earth could ever imagine, something far more incredible than what Gypsy and I watched this morning. They are celebrating in a place we know not of, and though we mourn them today, we must remember that wherever they are now, they are at peace. They are content. They are joyful. We are the ones stuck in a world where the bad too often arises over the good. We are the ones left to ponder the meaningless or confusing ways in which their earthly lives were ended. And we are the ones who must stand together if we are to see our ways through the unbearable sadness.
Now more than ever is the time to celebrate the lives of those we have lost. As we move on from what is now now and continue on into the future, we will find that each now is the time to remember them always. We owe it to them, to their memories, to simply remember. Furthermore, we owe it to them to live our lives in such a way that when we die, we will leave behind a world that is a little better than it was when we entered it.
Whenever the ranch I volunteer at loses one of its beloved horses, the owner of the ranch, my dear friend Jim, always quotes White Elk: “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”
Today the world goes on.
Today we try to make sense of a tragedy – and indeed, many other worldwide tragedies – that simply cannot be understood.
And today we remember that while those who are gone are rejoicing far away, here in this world, we are all we’ve got. And surely as the sun will rise again tomorrow like it did for Gypsy and I today, that is a fact that is never going to change.