July blew hot across our island; August has blown cold. In the sharp winds, my sons and crew wear winter gear while mending the nets, huddle to keep warm on snack break. Our cooler month, July, was hot. Our warm month, August is cold now. The deer run tame. In the clouded skies, the island glows green and the bay sings blue even in the darkest light. I feel unsettled.
In this beauty, I wanted to write of weddings this week. That was my plan. But this day, this very hour I sit to write brings news of death. In the storms this last week, one fisherman drowned at the south end of Kodiak. I just heard another man took his life in a village not far from here. My brother-n-law, just back from the salmon season in Bristol Bay said four fishermen died there during this year’s mad season.
Six deaths. Six funerals. All tragic. But I cannot claim grief---I did not know these men. I can only claim sadness at the losses. Even from a distance, death stings.
But here on this island, close-up, there is joy.
My daughter, my eldest just left, after two weeks on Harvester with her intended. They got engaged on the shores of the island she loves as much as I do. And, of course, in the skiff as well. (How can a fisherwoman become engaged without a fish or two?)
It is just weeks now before my son marries the beautiful love of his life.
And next spring, another precious son marries a woman of greater worth than rubies.
Three weddings in eight months. Their cups overflow. And my cup is a gushing well.
It feels wrong to be happy while others are grieving, to plan weddings while others are planning funerals, but we are all dying, too. Every day, another page pulled from the book of the days of our lives. So I take this moment, this sad funereal news as a "memento mori" a sign to once again remember this fleeting piece of life we're given. What shall we do with the hours we are given, if we have that much time?
You know what I'm going to say today, with my cup spilling over, with these photos of half of my family and the new families that will begin from them. I'm going to say "love." Because that is the strongest weapon I know against Time and against death. There is another kind of death that is equally tragic. We all know people who live for themselves alone. We have seen them. They are already dead. They are breathing, but deceased. And we know people cast off by others. Considered unlovable. Killed by neglect. It is tragic and pitiful and heartbreaking and it's all around us. it could be any of us. (And maybe it is you right now.) Not-loving kills us and it kills others.
But Loving kills us too. We all know this, yes? It kills our self-preservation. It smothers our pride. It slays our self-obsession. It leads us to gladly lay down our lives for others. We can drown in love. We can disappear. We can be swallowed whole.
(If you have children, you know this. If you are single and have served many, you know this. If you are long married, you know this.)
My words this week are simple and you've heard them before. But I say it again.
We're all headed for the grave. We have no choice. But we have this choice:
Which death shall we die each day?
I pray we choose the beautiful daily death that raises us up each morning,
against all selfishness,
against all sense and flesh,
to love again the other,
the lovely and unloved,
(the husband, the wife, the father, the brother,)
until death do us part.
And if Love kills us first, death shall have no part.
Friends, have you, too, found this true? How has love overcome death in your life this last year?