On Monday a friend's husband suffered a stroke. He is in critical condition, but he is fighting. On Thursday a colleague's 25-year-old daughter died. Last month an 8-year-old boy who attended the school at which I work contracted a strep infection that invaded his bloodstream. Within 24 hours he was dead. A blogger friend's husband has been diagnosed with cancer. Another blogger friend's mother has just died. Two days ago, during the blizzard in New England, a father tucked his son into a running car to keep the child warm while he shoveled. The vehicle's exhaust pipe was blocked by snow. The kid died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Such things have always happened. For me to believe that they are occurring more frequently would be hubris. It is only that the older I get, the more attuned I am to accident, injury, disease, death.
And aging. I watch a man on television with whom I happened to grow up, and I wonder, "Do I look as old, or as young, as he does?" Of course I do -- he is only five months older than I (Arndt, Sarah; Cooper, Anderson, as we were listed then, in elementary school). But when I look in the mirror, I see my young self, because she is who I saw first and, possibly, who I know best.
At 95 years old my grandmother had a pruny face. Yet when she gazed at herself through cataract-riddled, watery eyes, I imagine that she saw a flapper with a string of pearls and mischievous cornflower blue eyes.
I am getting used to the fact of aging, to the incidents and accidents, because I must. If you're around long enough, if you keep your eyes open, you really have no choice, do you? But at the same time I will never get used to any of it. So much is luck or its lack, so much is random.
Paradoxically we humans are not programmed to handle randomness. We see a group of dots; we turn them into a figure of a dog. The stars become bears or hunters. We sense the contours of our limbs long after they have been taken from us. We are made to discover order where there is disorder, structure where there's none. We are designed to feel: to sympathize, empathize, suffer, ache, grieve.
And sometimes that last seems the cruelest joke of all.