The line


There was a red elmo doll on the back of a trailer today.  I sat at a red light and stared at it with a curious gaze.  I wondered how it was secured.  Little zip ties? A thin metal wire? Perhaps it was just whimsy for the sake of whimsy. One day a construction worker found it in the pile to give away to goodwill, his kid having long since grown tired of it, and affixed it to the metal bars. Like a joke or a trick.  Perhaps he was drunk and someone dared him to do it.  Or maybe he thought it would bring joy to the people behind him in traffic who, like me, sat in stoic stillness waiting for the light to turn, staring at the sad face of a stuffed doll who spoke with an eerie baby voice on television.

What it brought was a wave of curiosity and a tinge of sadness, a toy strapped to the back of a trailer, struggling to breathe. It looked harnessed and tortured, strapped to the metal under the intense Texas sun.  Poor little thing.  But it’s fine, little doll. Don’t worry.  You are not alive and have no beating heart and you’ll be okay in the end.

Today Kate Spade killed herself.  She apparently tied a scarf around her neck and ended it all. I find that a few degrees worse that she used a beautiful thing like a scarf that was meant to be delicate and soft and wrapped it around her pretty little neck to be used for harm.  I am sad for her family and her daughter.  I’m sad that people are so ready to stop the pain that they take it upon themselves to do so.

Sometimes sadness is a part of life, the same as laughter and hunger and sexual desire. One day we eat chocolate cookies with the chunks large and half-melted and sticking out of the top and we think “how delightful.” And yet other days, we weep. We all experience feelings that flow through us whether we want them or not, carrying with them some unintended consequences for the people we love and the relationships we hold dear.  I want to go around smoothing out all the rough edges, saying it’s fine it’s all going to be fine don’t worry.  And yet I cannot do this, soothe the world.  It’s too broken and it has too many sharp edges. I have to protect my fingers from being shredded.  Who will roll out the cinnamon dough?  Who will tap the keys and form all the thoughts into sentences? Who will write the notes to my children that I love them so?

I thought of Kate Spade and this limp carcass of a doll strapped to a trailer in front of me as the light changed. People stepped on the accelerator and we all just kept on going.  That’s what you do.  You just keep moving. It reminded me, yet again, of the frailty of life.   I watched bicyclists weave next to me on the busy roadway, their bodies so dangerously close to our big cars, their heads so perilously close to the pavement.

Maybe it’s because I’ve faced death so many times that I have become more attentive to it.  The time I woke to the anesthesiologist’s white pasty face, sweat beading up on his forehead like drops of dew on a morning leaf. When I heard the words “toxic” and “septic” and “there’s nothing left we can do but open her up and clean out her abdomen” like my insides were nothing but a vessel of poisonous snakes.  And that time I heard the dreaded word –  malignant.  I have always felt the edge, at times running my finger on it, feeling its sting.  This edge does not appear only when one is old or feeble or has a heart condition.  It’s today and in a few moments from now and next Thursday and when things are going well and the day you hear news you didn’t expect to hear. Sometimes you teeter on it, hang on the precipice of it, or walk alongside of it for a while.  I do not derive joy from this line.  I don’t get an adrenaline high from dancing beside it. I only know of its existence, like the fact I’m breathing or have a beating heart.

I’ve never been afraid of death.  You can be keenly aware of something without fearing it.  I have always had a knowing feeling that I would someday cross over this line and be at peace, warm, safe.  My only sadness comes from those left behind, the inability to reach back and whisper into the ears of my children.  I am fine, just fine, don’t worry. This is why I write them little notes and tuck them away in drawers and boxes.  Why I give them gifts on Wednesdays. This is why I spend time baking and hours writing and nights snuggling.  I hold them so tight and say the same things over and over as their little eyes close so it will somehow imprint upon them like a tattoo upon their brains.  And maybe when I’m gone, they will hear it like a refrain, or a song in a distant wind, or something they recognized but can’t quite place.  And it will make them feel safe.

And yet I am not God.  I don’t have the power to give them peace, even if I wanted to.  I am only a woman who can see the line between life and death beside me, in the grocery store and on the highway, in the hospital room and on a bicycle.

I see this line, yes.  But I do not run from it.  I take all the feelings and hold them for a little while through a long deep exhale. And then I push on the accelerator.  I open my eyes in the morning toward the direction of a new day, and I simply keep going. This is what life is on this side of heaven. We just have to keep moving.

It’s fine, just fine. Don’t worry.


  1. Amanda: this is hands down, the best thing you have ever written in this space. And that is saying something, because I love everything you put here. You’ve captured this truth, this enigma, better than most. Thank you so much.