Lightning, Healing, and Moving Forward

I held my then 3-year old cousin, James, in my arms as we walked toward the horse stables. Toastie walked toward us on the other side of the fence, while James reached out to open the gate so we could walk with her. I felt a surge of energy run through my arms and James began to cry. He had grabbed the wire between the wooden posts of the fence, and given both of us our first experience in being electrocuted. Aside from being stunned for a moment, we were fine.

Lightning bolts are not so kind.

You always hear that stupid saying, “Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” I don’t know about that; maybe it will, maybe it won’t. What I do know is that lightning struck in Costa Rica last Thursday, killed someone I knew, and left her wife a widow. Thirty-something and a widow. Ain’t that some shit.

The survivors have all, well … survived. Meanwhile, life seems to go on like nothing happened, over here in sunny California. At least, on the outside. On the outside, I run, I eat, I relax; I progress, I regress, I digress.

My insides, however, think about Jen and Christina and Meredith and Debi, almost constantly. I wonder what the moment was like for them, and if Jen felt any fear or pain; I pray she felt neither. I ache for her wife and my two friends who were with her, and how they all will come home without her. I go about my life here, and every once in a while I feel stunned in disbelief, in awe of the power and inadvertent cruelty of nature. And then I feel guilty for calling them my “friends” at all.

A part in healing.

At times I feel sad enough for it to have been my own wife, then ridiculous because, come on Dian, you hardly ever saw the woman—any of them, really—any more. It’s not like they were your “real” friends. I guess that could be true. What’s also true is that I did and I do know these women, even if seemingly in passing, that Jen holds a special place in my heart, and that she probably never knew it.

I met Jen on a Mammoth trip in February of 2004, just after I’d broken up with my girlfriend of nearly four years. A trip that was filled with new friends, snowboarding, giddy laughter, and dancing—all in the name of healing. It may not have been a big deal to Jen to sit and listen to my ramblings, or to help me sift through the snow to find my cell phone, or sip hot toddies with me while waiting for our friends at the bottom of the mountain, but it was a huge deal to me to create new memories. I’ve always been grateful to her for that.

Since then, I haven’t spent much time with Jen, outside of a river trip here and there, or a chance bump-in at various events or parties. Often after our run-into-each-others, I smiled and thanked her silently for her part in the beginning of my healing from a painful breakup, and we went our separate ways.

Feeling ridiculous.

This past weekend has been mostly filled with the usual goings-on of my weekends of late: training for a half-marathon, walks with Jackson, relaxing with the Wildcat, movies with friends, and general well being. It’s also been peppered with contemplating the fragility of life, actively (and vocally) being grateful for my friends and family, and feeling guilty for being sadder than I think I should be for someone I hardly knew.

I want so badly to take the pain away from the people directly affected, and then I almost crave to feel the pain myself. I want to handle it, so they don’t have to. I don’t understand it, I don’t think it’s rational, and yet, I don’t know how to stop it. I’ve been replaying the phone call I got from my friend to tell me the news on Friday and reading the various articles I can find on the incident, over and over and over again. I know the names or circumstances will not magically change, and still, I read on.

I keep feeling like I am beside myself, like I’m grief-stricken, like I’m deeply affected by my friend’s passing. Then I think about all the people in her life who were closer to her than me, and I feel ridiculous. I envision her wife looking at me, thinking, saying: “Who the fuck are you and why are you so upset?” or “Get outta here, lady, you hardly even knew her…”

Fluidity of emotions.

I’m a little too narcissistic for my own good sometimes. When I get a hold of myself, I remember that I’m upset because I cared about Jen King. I’m upset because she’s no longer alive. Sure, I hardly knew the inner workings of her recent evolutions of life, but it doesn’t make my emotions irrelevant or nonexistent. Emotions are fluid; they cannot be fenced in by electric wires, lightning bolts in open fields, or six years of a friendship in passing, no matter what “shoulds” we try to convince ourselves of.

A soothing light washes over me, melting guilt. My pain has no bearing on anyone else’s, and the sadness I feel is just as worthy as even Jen’s widow—it’s just a different kind of sadness. My own experience with the loss of loved ones leads me to believe that Jen’s wife is in her own world of emotion, oblivious to mine.

Time is a forward-moving capsule.

Today, I am grateful for the time I spent with Jen, and sad she is gone. Today, I am grateful that Christina, Meredith, and Debi are alive and coming home soon, if not already here. Today I am grateful for this sadness in my heart, reminding me how precious life is. Today, I’m grateful that emotions are fluid, and each of us get to experience our own without diminishing the strength or honor of another’s. Today, I am grateful to be alive.

You cannot go back in time and be a better friend to anyone. You can only live today, and look forward to tomorrow.

Rest in peace, dear Jennifer King. You are missed.