Someone I knew from my singing days got the worst imaginable news yesterday. Her 21-year-old son was killed in a car crash, on his way back to college after a family celebration in honor of his grandfather’s hundredth birthday.
I cannot fathom such a simcha followed by such devastation. I keep trying to imagine spending my hundredth birthday planning my grandchild’s funeral. I lay awake last night imagining what it would be like to wake up in the morning having two sons and go to bed that same night having only one.
I am beyond tears. It isn’t that the mother is a close friend; we were acquaintances long ago, neither friendly nor unfriendly. It isn’t that I knew and loved the boy. The last time I saw him — the only time I saw him — he was the same age as my younger son.
It is something else entirely.
When these terrible things happen — a sudden aneurysm, a car accident, a shock of violence — we can sort of live with them. Uneasily, yes, but we live with them because they happened to someone else. They are, most of the time, sad things that are not about us. We can look at the news articles and think, “Oh, how sad, that must be awful.” The sadness is theoretical, because it’s happening to someone else.
Except there is no someone else.
Every someone else is also a someone. This young man who died was a loving and enduring couple’s son. He was his surviving twin’s brother. He was his hundred-year-old grandfather’s grandson. He was — for his family, his friends, his community — not someone else. He was Michael.
How can I honor the too-short life of this someone-not-else? By living my life with the consciousness that there is no someone else. Everyone who momentarily annoys me, or misunderstands me, or ignores me would matter unutterably in his absence. It’s a cliché but you never know whom someone matters to; everyone matters to someone. My work, my service to my long-ago acquaintance, my pledge to the memory of her precious son, is to treat each person like someone, not someone else.