Life is transient; life is fragile. I often wonder what is on the other side. Maybe someday I’ll know. Or maybe I won’t.
This past year, death has been too much with us. So much loss. While Covid-19 has claimed its unfair share of victims, that terrible viral infection hasn’t been the only culprit. We, the living, bear the burden of remembering our loved ones. The manner of their death is important, but so is their legacy—how they live on through us.
I’ve been thinking about this because in the last few months, we’ve lost several friends and family members: my sister, the father of a dear friend, two more family members, the husband and brother of another friend, and just last week, my wife’s brother. Only one was taken by Covid, but all are gone nonetheless. And suddenly, too. Death arrived unbidden on our doorstep, came in and made itself brazenly unwelcome in our home, leaving nearly overwhelming grief in its dark wake.
I don’t believe life ends in oblivion; it certainly doesn’t end like that for those of us left behind. Back in 1968, Blood, Sweat & Tears covered a Laura Nyro song that included this lyric: “I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell.” Maybe so, but in my mind, there is a midway point between the extremes—a place of crossing over, some sort of bridge spanning the void that lies between the consciousness of this world and the great unknown on the other side.
In the film “Field of Dreams,” Terrence Mann, the JD Salinger-like character portrayed by James Earl Jones, is invited by the ghostly baseball teams playing in an Iowa cornfield to come with them to the mysterious place beyond the outfield. At first, he is both reluctant and intrigued, but eventually, with a little coaxing from Shoeless Joe Jackson, he walks out across the green grass of life toward the limit of Ray Kinsella’s field. Tentatively, he reaches into the tall corn that borders the diamond, only to draw back his hand in wonder. He takes a deep breath, then steps in and gives one last wistful look back before setting off down the rows, fading away as he goes, leaving behind only the music of the stalks rustling in the wind. I’ve always liked that scene; it may be Hollywood’s overly romantic answer to the imponderable question of death but it’s comforting nonetheless.
The last lines of that aforementioned Laura Nyro song go like this: “And when I die, and when I’m dead, dead and gone, there’ll be one child born and the world will carry on. Carry on.” In the months to come, there is likely still more grief to come but there’s also hope. I find a fair measure of comfort in the belief that our pain, intense as it may be in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, will ease over time and life will return to something akin to normal. It is our lot to remember all those who have crossed over the bridge and to carry on.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.