It’s 2:30 a.m., and the noise from a nearby transformer fuse blowing is enough to shock me upright from a deep sleep. It is the kind of sound one imagines an electric chair might make during an execution: a bass, voltic yawp that charges the air for an instant with a deadly vitality and leaves in its wake an unnatural silence.
Within seconds, the power is back on, but I cannot return to sleep. There was a violence in the sudden noise that roils the subsequent stillness: I cannot remember when I last felt so alone. I recall my last lover — how, when I stirred at night from some ghost or restlessness, I would reach for her hand. How, no more than half-awake, she would entwine her fingers in mine, and rouse herself enough to speak quietly to me until again I was asleep.
That was long ago, when we were new. That kind of tenderness, that sort of vigilance toward one another, left our relationship long before she did.
I wonder at our loneliness. I know that coupling with another is no panacea; we can feel as isolated within a relationship as we do on our own. And however close we may sometimes feel to each other — in the blush of early love, in a fleeting moment of retrieved intimacy —something of us yet remains separate, hidden from the other.
Still: The fingers entwined in the dead of night; the softness of language in the dark.
My cat jumps on the bed and bends his body to the curl of my legs. Eventually, we sleep.
Whosoever saves a single life is as if he had saved the whole world; whosoever destroys a single life is as if he had destroyed the whole world. — The Talmud
I don’t listen to news regularly, so I hear about Nice belatedly, this morning on my car radio. Eighty-four dead; more than 200 hurt, a quarter of them in critical condition.
I park my car and board the shuttle bus that leads to the Incline, a wildly steep and popular mountain climb that is part of my workout routine. Strangers fill the seats and stand in the aisles: Locals, tourists, young, old, men, women, black, white. Some are laughing and talking.
I listen. They seem to be connecting, communicating. Yet I sense a bubble around each of us, a barrier through which nothing real passes. The young woman seated on my left is preoccupied, head downcast; she is picking at her cuticles, a nervous habit I share. I wonder if she is anxious; I wonder if she is sad. I want to place my open hand gently on her back. I want to say, softly: It’s OK. You’ll be OK.
I notice the sign above the driver’s head as we pull away from the curb: No unauthorized guns, knives or weapons of any kind.
I look at us, at all of us, together and yet so separate. I feel our isolation, one from another. I think of Nice: 84 dead; 200 hurt; 50 clinging to life. Almost every day, it seems, more of this. I want to cry, but I get a grip: I would embarrass us all.
How do we come to lose each other so utterly — in our public squares, in our most private places? How do we lose the shared understanding of our species, our common experience of joy and of suffering? How do we lose the singular tenderness of lovers, our cherishing of each other?
How do we forget one another so completely? How do we remember love? How do we save each other’s lives?
Oh, be kind today. See in a person you imagine to be a stranger yourself in the pitch black of midnight, longing for a hand to hold, listening for the softness of language in the dark. See in a person you imagine you do not know the loved one of another dead or mortally injured, this time in Nice.
Oh, be kind today: Save your life; save mine.