I cannot get used to death, even though I know I must. We all owe nature a death. And, sadly, live long enough and those close to you die. It is the way of the world. And it hurts.
A neighbor died last night. He was a good man. He loved his wife, his children, his land, and his horses. He died too young. And now on an especially cold, snowy and bleak New England day the land is without him. He is suddenly gone and we who remain search for him on the wind.
K. struggled with throat cancer, although he made no show of it. He beat it back years ago, and went about the joy of living. He built fences. He mucked his horse stalls. He mended things. For a time, he cared for a horse of ours. He was quiet dignity, and being near him always made me feel the power of goodness.
When his wife was mangled in a horrible car accident, he hunkered down and gave her hope. He built fences. He mucked his horse stalls. He mended things. The rhythm of living wouldn't let him go, and the sheer power of his goodwill made a safe place for his wife to heal, some say miraculously.
Then the cancer attacked again. This time it choked the life from him. And he bore it silently.
I cannot bear the thought of the emptiness in his home today. Where do good men go when they die? Why do they leave us? What gives us the courage to manage another day when idols fall?
K. cared for a meadow we own that abuts his property; the meadow is home to one of New England's oldest used book shops, volumes tucked away in decaying barns. One morning a few years back, I drove by on my way to court. A horse had died, and its corpse lay still on a gentle rise. I stopped the car and stared. Had death really come just like that, striking down an animal of splendid power and force? It made me cry to see life's majesty dethroned. Even so, there was a quiet dignity to the scene.
Our meadow will now be silent for a long, long time. Its custodian has gone to ground for good. I will drive there today to look at the land and remember K. I will see him now in the silhouette of an old tree, long since dead, still atop the rise on which a horse once died. It stands bold and upright against the wind, its broken branches falling one at a time, but naked now and forevermore. It, too, shall fall; but until it does there remains simple dignity.