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brief candle

“…when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.” — sogyal rinpoche

Last night, I was walking to a local used bookstore when I saw someone get hit by a metro bus. They were in the crosswalk (I wasn’t paying attention to the circumstances and couldn’t judge what happen), and I heard the dull smack of impact. When I walked over, 5 people (one being the bus driver) were standing around a woman face down on the curbramp for wheelchairs. They were covering her with coats, but it looked like her spine was broken in the thoracic vertebrae.

Her leg was also broken, but that break in the spine was probably enough that she’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. It was low enough in the back that she’ll be able to conduct a lot of normal bodily functions unaided though, if I remember correctly, but that’s a comfort so cold it’s virtually frosty.

I learned today that Anita Rowland died yesterday of cancer. She did a lot of great things in her life, I met her not long after I first arrived in Seattle at a Seattle Cacophony Society event, and I remember her as being particularly warm and welcoming to someone who didn’t have any clear idea what they were doing. There were pancakes.

The spinal injury rocked me hard, I’m still hearing the impact and the look on the driver’s face as he stood over her. It’s weird seeing the spine broken, it’s something you assume is in one piece, it’s part of the very definition of our species that we have spines. I hadn’t seen that before and I hope to not see it again.

The ambulance bears witness to trauma. It’s like a priest performing last rites, it’s the modern sanctification of the church of modernity. The ambulance comes, it disgorges it’s ceremonials, the police come and record the words, they all pack up and leave. We return to what we were doing before, supposedly soothed by the efficient comings and goings of society. It’s hard, sometimes, modern society wants to keep us constantly fed on spectacle, but it isn’t supposed to unfold before our eyes in that fashion in this plan. But humanity doesn’t ever go according to plan.

We are frail, and we will all die. And that frailty can be the basis for compassion for all and love for some. We are frail, and we will all die; and even though I get pissed off at stupid people I still remember that we are all worthy of compassion. Or I usually do, at any rate. We are massive colony organisms, and not all of those colonies are our friends, but as a mass lump we can reach for the stars. or something.

Good bye, Anita. Good luck, anonymous victim in the street. Be well, reader. You are probably worthy of more love than you’ve received in this world; it’s the human condition.

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