26 October 2008

I witnessed the death of a young man today

I couldn't sleep last night and wrote this around 2:30 this morning.

One sad part of growing older is seeing more people die. We don't actually 'see' it happen, though, as we aren't usually present at the moment of death. We just hear the news afterwards, and everyone reacts to that differently. I was there this time, though, and for some reason, it compelled me to start a blog. Here is the news article, and here is what I saw.

This morning, I approached the men's boathouse for the women's race as an ambulance and a fire engine pulled up. There were already a police car and another ambulance there, so I tried to gather information from the many people milling around after the men's race. The buzz was that some guy had collapsed after he finished running-- which wouldn't be that out of the ordinary, except that he didn't get up and then stopped breathing. A student performed CPR on him, and once the emergency personnel arrived, the paramedics pounded on the poor kid's chest again and again and again, trying to beat his heart back to life. It hurt just to watch. Why did saving a life look so violent? The crowd was quiet and started to trickle away.

I didn't know if it would be more respectful to stay and hope or to not look and leave him in peace. I decided I wanted to be there, so that when he woke up, we could all clap for him and make him feel loved. I waited and waited for that happy-ending moment.

Peter Cai, class of 2010, was in and out, and then, with one last shake, as if freeing his soul from his physical body, he was gone. They lifted him onto a stretcher and pushed him into an ambulance. A friend went in the police car to go with him to the hospital. The women's race was canceled, and I saw a group huddling into a hug as we turned away. We paired off as we walked back along the river, looking at familiar sights that somehow seemed clearer, sharper, more dramatic.

As we tried to process what we had just seen, children and adults in matching copper-colored t-shirts started to stream by us. They were in good spirits, and their t-shirts told us they were doing a walk for literacy. As they walked towards the Dunkin' Donuts boxes stacked on a table, I wanted to cry out for them stop. Wait! A boy just died around the corner! But, no, I said nothing, and they went on with their walk and their lives.

So, what is a life? Why does it end so abruptly for some and drag on and on for others? Why does it take something as drastic as death for us to see things in perspective and appreciate the simple things (being alive, for example)? And why the heck was my response to start a blog? I created this blogger profile, and then, there was this white rectangle that I was supposed to fill with some catchy and concise name of my brand new blog. I said to the monitor, 'I don't know. I'm creatively paralyzed because I saw death today.' But then, I thought of one of my favorite words/concepts:

the serendipity berry, also known as miracle fruit.

1. the berrylike fruit of either of two African shrubs, Synsepalum dulcificum or Thaumatococcus daniellii, that, when chewed, causes sour substances to taste sweet.
2. the similar fruit of an African shrub, Dioscoreophyllum cumminsii. Also called miracle berry, miraculous fruit.
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Copyright © 1997, by Random House, Inc.)

I liked it because it was real yet magical, and it didn't fix everything, but it could make that bitter taste in your mouth seem a little sweeter. So, I figured if I could be like a serendipity berry in life and help sweeten someone's sorrows even a little, I will have succeeded as a human being.

My partner and I started by baking apple bread pudding and classic bread pudding tonight. We fed around thirty students in need of a little comfort/food-- and no, food certainly isn't the only way to make people feel better, but it was a nice excuse to have people gather. Conversation naturally flowed to and away from Peter as it started to rain outside, and I hope, in this small way, I was able to do some good. One serendipity berry a day is a good start.


  1. You have an incredible way with words. It truly moved me. I will pary for you, your students, and for Peter's family. ~ Christine

  2. After reading what happened, I can see how an event like this can shake you to your core. It was good of you and your partner to host people at your home. Sometimes the company of others can be a good balm on the soul during times like this.

  3. I'm 73 and have yet to witness a transformation like this. So sad in one so young, for whom there was so much hope. I think of the family's deep shock. Of yours, sb. Nice with the food. And the group. What is there but to hold hands and vow to love one another better than heretofore? And pray or practice as best one can.

  4. =( How painful it is to hear that someone so young can pass away so suddenly! Your post (and blog!) reminds me to live each day as if it were our last.

    I will keep Peter, his family, the students, and my two favorite people in my prayers!

  5. I see so few people these days take their experiences, whether good or bad ones, and turn it into some thing that they can cause influence and share with others. We need more selfless beings like you to keep these bad times not looking so dull onwards. Thank you.

  6. Thank you all for your comments and kind words, and sorry I didn't respond earlier. When I first started my blog, I didn't know if a blogger could comment on their own blog, too. Now, I've decided I can make comments, too. :-)