by cheri block sabraw
with thanks to Brighid for her comment
One of my best students that year, Mark, received some very bad news one weekend, the type of news that forces deep introspection about everything one believes. His younger brother had been hit and killed by a car in the central valley town of Merced.
Riding home from Yosemite on a Boy Scout excursion along one of those country capillaries that connect small valley towns, John never saw the car that mowed him down and never lived to join his big brother Mark at Mission High School.
When Mark returned to school after a week of burial and mourning traditions, I suggested that he stop by Room N-9 if he ever needed to talk.
Mark was a rational person, skilled in math and science, not given to hyperbole or drama. He would want answers.
He did stop by one day.
Did I believe events like childhood death were random?
Did his brother’s premature death have a meaning?
Why was his brother hit and killed in such a violent way?
Why was he alive and his brother dead?
He wanted my answers to these questions.
I understood his need for definitive reasoning in matters of life and death.
Not regular death— a part of life—but of early death, childhood death, mass death, and torturous death: the death of a toddler to Burkett’s Disease, the deaths of six million, the random deaths of a Kansas family –these types of deaths.
It is easy to slot a death with step-by-step religious reasons until it is your child who dies from a disease or at the hands of a poor driver.
Some events have answers, but most are part of the mystery of life.
In trying to understand (or put into a nice neat slot) events that do not seem natural, I have become a Deist, that is I subscribe to the watchmaker analogy–that the Creator of this perfect universe with its laws, and yes, mutations, which are part of nature–is like a watchmaker. The higher power winds us up and then sets us off on our journeys. Free will and all.
Much of our heartache we create ourselves.
Men look off the road, or as Andreas Kluth points out, text while driving and take a life.
Men, women, and children die at the hands of brutal captors in the Holocaust.
The Clutter Family is shot in its beds In Cold Blood.
All of these events, I believe, have nothing to do with a creator of such magnificence here.
So, all I could offer Mark was a metaphor for our natural existence: a spider web.
When the sun rises in the East and begins to spread its light through the oak trees onto my tiny deck, the nightly handiwork of several spiders becomes apparent. Each illuminated silvery strand becomes part of the larger product, constructed with precision in one of Nature’s engineering marvels.
The spaces in these webs, which will soon become harnesses of death themselves, are ordered and measured in a geometric quilt. Physics, chemistry, biology unify in an orderly manner. Like the universe itself, the laws abide here in the creation of this tiny web, strung between two pieces of wrought iron.
Certainly, this perfection—repeated throughout time by a tiny creature—means something.
That was all I shared with Mark that year.
I am not sure if it helped or not.