I drove some friends ninety miles to the big city today, to catch a train. They are on their way to pick up another friend in Denver, who’s just gotten off a ten-day kayak trip down the Gulf of Mexico. When we left, and when we were eating lunch, we hadn’t heard from her; her trip with three others occurred during the windy season, creating five to eight foot waves in the Gulf. We were all a little edgy underneath (and two of us more overtly) because she was supposed to be off the water two days ago. But we anyway enjoyed our lunch out at a fancy locovore restaurant, and I even ate a burger because I was assured it was locally and (essentially) organically-grown beef.
We talked with glee about the gravitational wave news proving something about Einstein and two black holes colliding a billion years ago, and I crowed about my old friend who’d had a hand in it, and then we branched out to apocalyptic meteor and supernova scenarios. We talked a lot, indirectly and directly, about death, with great good humor. We talked about the worst aspects of human nature, and our better animal and spiritual aspects. In the back of our minds was What if she didn’t make it?
She did. She had a fabulous time, I found out later. In the meantime, we parted ways after lunch, and I began a long list of errands. When any of us go to Grand Junction, there is usually a long list of errands: the Liquor Barn which always has the best price on Bombay Sapphire, PetSmart for our dog and cat needs, Vitamin Cottage for the most economical organic groceries, Office Depot… things you can’t get out here in the rural West. I was obligated to attend a Board meeting this evening in another town, and I was trying to hurry through my errands to make it home in time to turn around and head out again.
Leaving PetSmart, at the traffic light by the Mall, I watched a motorcycle police officer pull into the intersection and stop his bike. He dismounted, and his bike tipped over almost knocking him down. He recovered and awkwardly struggled to right the bike, succeeding just as three more motorcycle cops drove past him, followed by a funeral procession. In that way that knowledge dawns on you, not like a bolt of lightning but with a steady sureness that only takes a few more seconds, I recognized what it was, and I began to cry.
Last week a 17-year-old boy, masked and lingering near two schools, shot Mesa County Deputy Derek Greer. The suspect was apprehended; the deputy didn’t die right away, and local news reported that he was being kept on life support in order to complete organ donations. That was the last I’d heard of it a few days ago. When I saw the hearse, the dozens of flashing-light vehicles, black buses, and vans following it, sorrow washed over me. Just so sad. Senseless. I sat there and cried and cried, and thought of that man’s family, and of the kid who’d killed him, and all the suffering rippling out from that singular moment when their lives collided.
I thought of my grandmother’s funeral in Tennessee many years ago. I’d never before seen this: As the small procession we rode in moved through the small town where she had lived for so many years, people stopped on the sidewalks and held their hats over their hearts; they pulled their cars over, got out, took off their hats. They had no idea who this funeral was for; my granny hadn’t lived there for over a decade. They were simply showing their respect for whomever it was, showing their shared comprehension of our mutual mortality.
Then I looked out my right side window, and an older man in the truck next to me was watching me. “It’s that officer,” I said. “I know,” he said. “So sad,” I said. “Yes,” he said. The patrol cars continued to emerge from the curve about half a mile away. The man asked me if I’d heard about the man who was struck by a car last fall, and told me all about it; it was his 58-year-old son, who is still recovering but might lose his leg. So sad. I wished fleetingly that I hadn’t opened myself to this conversation. I’d been immersed in the endless funeral procession, noting the counties heard from, meditating on the range of grief: first dozens of cars from Mesa County, then squad cars from all over the state, Ft. Collins, Parachute, Cedaredge, Adams, Garfield, Rifle, and more, even Moab, Utah.
The procession went on and on. Five minutes, ten, more. Fifty vehicles, seventy, more. A Delta County car (my deputy) pulled up to the motorcycle cop, who mounted and joined the procession. But still more cars came, now interspersed with regular drivers. Our light turned green. People behind us honked and yelled. But the couple of cars ahead of me and my neighbor stayed still and let the rest of the mourners pass before us. I cried again, at the grace these drivers showed. We were all anxious to get somewhere. We were all touched by what we were witnessing, and were in no hurry to interrupt this impressive, heartbreaking display of respect for a fallen officer.
Eventually the procession ended, the green arrow directed us to proceed, and we did. Not a quarter mile on at the next intersection I was startled by the broken siren of an emergency vehicle announcing itself, and to my left, coming down the road that leads from the interstate, was another procession of flashing-light vehicles as far back as I could see, another quarter mile at least. I drove home calmly in crazy traffic. In this vast and incomprehensible universe, I was moved to a sad and tranquil peace by what I had observed, the best of human nature that I’d become a tiny part of in a tiny way.