"We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance." - Marcel Proust
Who of us are confident that we will live tomorrow? While we might not think it or voice it, most of us live as though we will. Nineteen-year-old Taylor Nesseth certainly did.
I was with Taylor and her parents, Jane and Tim, for their last breakfast together, Saturday, July 14, 2012. It was a fluke -- a last minute get-together as our previous engagement was called off -- a surprise flash mob for another friend who was so deathly ill, he was taken to the hospital overnight Friday.
Early Saturday morning, Jane emailed me, "We're so sorry to hear that your friend is doing poorly. Keep us posted." I have no idea why, as I had never called them about going for breakfast before, but I did and we decided to meet at Tim Hortons at 9:15 a.m.
Taylor's "best day ever" is frozen in my memory. She was giddy with happiness. The images flip through my mind like snap shots in an invisible reel: throwing her long hair back in laughter, slurping her drink with a straw, her winning smile; telling me she would show me how to get to her older brother, Josh's Silverback football game; her leaving the coffee shop with her parents in tow -- knowing she was that much closer to the event she had planned for months (she repeated several times, "I'm so happy...I'm going to Toronto this afternoon -- front row for the Vans Warped Tour"), practically skipping out heading to their car.
Where was I headed? What did I do that weekend? I don't recall. Not until the moment I received news that I had to share with Jane early Monday morning. I emailed her, "My friend died early this morning. We should still do that flash mob for him."
Sixty-five minutes later I received this reply: "Sorry to hear that. Donald, Taylor died Saturday, July 15 at 1:30 p.m. We are waiting for the autopsy and then can bring her home from Toronto."
Taylor died? The exact moment I read those words Taylor's album reel began playing in my mind. It stops at the last image of her -- her leaving Timmy's and replays from her giddy entrance.
I dial Jane's number. Tim answers. I fumble through some words -- hugs, sympathy...shock... speechless...I know you can't talk. The daily commitments don't change but what I think about does. The reel doesn't stop. While I work, eat, while I stand in line at the visitation and at the memorial service. Even when I sleep, I dream the reel.
My other friend's death was certain. He experienced unimaginable pain. His beloved brother told me his one feeling at the end was, "Gratitude. My brother's torture is over." How could anyone desire another human being's torture to continue another minute, let alone another day?
But beautiful, vibrant, ebullient Taylor? This young girl radiated an energy and happiness that was truly like experiencing a force of nature, an inextinguishable light.
It's true, as Proust wrote, death could -- indeed did -- arrive on an afternoon after our visit. But the reels that play in all the minds and hearts of those who knew her will keep the flame that is Taylor eternal.