What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone? ~ “If You Knew”, Ellen Bass
Several times a week I drive past the Grace Chapel of the Korean United Methodist Church. I see the stone that marks the spot where Korean graduate student Won-Joon Yoon was shot down by white supremacist, Benjamin Smith. Won- Joon was Smith’s final victim before he took his own life in 1999. The marker is only about ten feet from the front door of Grace Chapel, so close to being safely inside. So close to living beyond his twenty-six years-of-age. So close to finishing grad school. So close to life. So close to death.
I’m thinking of those liminal spaces between here and there, between yes and no, between life and death. So close to the dragon’s spume as Ellen Bass calls it in her amazing poem, “If You Knew”. We are all, each of us, every moment of every hour, a breath away from death, always in that liminal space, one breath away from that breath being our last.
As I watched both my parents’ transition out of this world, I saw a breath, then not a breath. Not one more breath. Smooth, peaceful and so very quiet. Was it like that from their perspective? I really hope so.
I’m wondering what we do with each of those bright and shining moments that are not our last? Make the most of them? Probably not. Take them for granted? Most likely. I think it would take too much energy to live like each moment was our last. I think I can manage being in the moment though. I can manage to slow down, be kinder, be more patient with people as Bass suggests. I don’t believe thresholds are meant to keep us stuck, caught in a web of choices. I believe they are meant to move us forward, to prepare us gently, intentionally for the next step in our journey, determine that needed first right step for our next adventure.
I’m reminded that we are just one decision or action away from being here or not here, by my friend, Nancy Comiskey who said after her twenty-four-year old daughter was killed in an accident caused by a driver who was high, she tearfully suggested that if only Kate hadn’t been able to find her hairbrush that morning, or had overslept, she might still be alive.
Who knows when we will be the last to touch someone before they die? Who will be the last to touch me before I die? I’m wondering who touched Won-Joon Yoon before he breathed his last. Was it a friend with a casual hand on his shoulder? Was it a paramedic trying to stop the flow of blood from his wound? Did he feel that touch? I hope he felt kindness right up to the very end. I went to his memorial service at the MAC. The place was packed. His father spoke so proudly, so lovingly. He spoke without hate. Didn’t want hate to be his son’s legacy. Won-Joon Yoon was loved. I hope he knew that.
Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse