When my daughter Pam was 17, she had a group of incandescent friends – Julie, Catherine, Kim, Martha, Polly and others – who lit the spaces of our lives. They went on to college, jobs, marriages and adventures, lost track of each other at times and got back together at high school reunions. They encountered heartaches and obstacles, found success and contentment and joy.
A few weeks ago, Kim’s daughter Ally, who was born within several months of my own beloved first granddaughter, died in an auto wreck. She was 17. Ally was, according to all reports from her grief-stricken friends, one of those incandescent teenagers herself, a pretty, outgoing, church-going, clean-living young woman of limitless promise. It is an unfathomable sorrow. Akin to the ache that envelops the room as those photos of smiling young service men and women roll silently across the NewsHour screen every Friday, with only their names, ages and hometowns suggesting the overwhelming sadness that their loss now creates.
When Pam and Kim and the others were about 17, their friend Mark was killed in a motorcycle accident. The only son of a very dear friend of mine, I remember Mark as filled with a more macho but equally vibrant incandescence; his loss remains, especially for his family and for those contemporary friends, a giant sorrow.
Here, though, is what sorrow does. It unites. It makes humanity understandable, it makes gentleness essential. Why would anyone who knew Ally or Mark ever want to be unkind? How could any of us fail to cherish the people we see and the day we greet?
It does nothing to lessen the loss. But whether we knew them or not, this is a parting gift from Ally and Mark.