I get up early most mornings (4:30 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. early) because I like the quiet of a dark, new day. The world is still asleep and not asking a single thing from me. I can escape into the imagined world I’m trying to create in my new novel before anyone else notices what I’m doing, including me. I avoid email and just get on with putting down on paper the characters and stories that have forced themselves into my dreams and incessantly whispered into my ear as if sitting on my shoulder. Last Monday, email was the first thing that came up when I flipped my laptop’s lid.

There were about a half dozen emails in my in-box that morning. Most were junk. I should have ignored them. But in my mindless obsessive-compulsive need to tidy up, I thought I’d just get rid of the junk and read the one email I had from an Italian friend. I had sent him some pictures of a snowy night in Whistler a week before. I’d sent the same pictures to friends and family all over the world. It had been a monster of a storm; one where you felt lucky to be sitting inside safe and warm watching your world turn still and white.  I expected that when I opened his email, my friend, like all the others who had already emailed me back, would comment about the beautiful pictures, how lucky I was to live in such a place, or even pity me for all the shovelling I had ahead of me. But his email started with “I’m sorry” and ended with the news that a mutual friend of ours had died of a heart attack only the day before. It took me several reads before I could understand what I was reading, then several more reads to accept that my friend who I had spoken to via email a week earlier about the same snowy wonderland pictures and who had responded with the word, “Bellissima” to the pictures, was dead.    

I stared at my screen for a long time and then into the darkness outside. I could no longer remember my plan for the day, what I was doing up so early, what was expected of me, what I expected of myself. Yes, the world was quiet, but rather than relish the stillness, I felt very much lost in it as though a door had closed behind me.

All day I made an attempt to start what I had planned to do, and my efforts came to nothing. I really wanted to crawl back into bed and hide.  Shocked, scared by the suddenness of the loss, regret over not visiting Italy last year when we were in Europe and so close, worried about my friend’s sons, and, concern about what I could do to help. All these feelings and thoughts ran and crossed over each other in my mind like unleashed rats, reminding me of all the other losses I’ve experienced in my life. I found myself thinking mostly of my mother, who I lost less than two years ago, as if she’d died last Monday.  I thought of other friends and again was reminded of the finality of death, that I would never email these people again, never pick up the phone and hear their voices on the other end, never Skype and see their smiling faces and waves across the miles. 

And again, this loss reminded me of the finite nature of time. I go along most days ignoring this reality. I think most of us do. So by midweek, I was nagging my husband about planning trips to places we’ve talked about, but had never been.  “Our time is limited, you know,” I said more than once this week. “We better get on with it, before it’s too late.” This is more of my compulsive nature showing it’s ugly roots. I had proof in my friend’s death that life could swat me down at any time, so felt the need to wrestle control back, get the things done I want to get done because as I’d said a lot this week, “you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”  It’s at these times, I start new bucket lists, things I have to do, places I have to go, people I need to reconnect with. And yes, I did send a flurry of emails this week in my need to touch base with friends. 

But then I had a couple of days at the end of the week, when I went back to my routine: writing early in the morning, exercising, jiving in dance class, studying Greek, reading, enjoying the view from the top of Blackcomb on a ski day, and I realized that I like this too, this routine in the life I’m leading. Yes, there are many things to do, lots of places to see, and people I want to see again and again, but life is “Bellissima” as my friend said, in all it’s moments, good and bad, and not meant to be rushed through, putting ‘must do’s” on a list and checking them off.  The trick is to remember this, even when I’m heartbroken and frightened. 


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