The uni­ver­sal thump

The Denver Post - - OPINION - JEREMY MEYER

The uni­ver­sal thump.

Ev­ery­one gets smacked at some point in life, writes Her­manMelville in the epic tale “Moby-Dick.”

“The old sea cap­tains ... may thump and punch me about,” says the pro­tag­o­nist, Ishmael, in the first chap­ter.

“I have the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing that it is all right; that ev­ery­body else is one way or other served in much the same way— ei­ther in a phys­i­cal or meta­phys­i­cal point of view, that is; and so the uni­ver­sal thump is passed round.”

This thought has been ring­ing in my head lately as the re­al­ity of life’s bru­tal­ity seemed to keep pre­sent­ing it­self over the past few weeks.

An old friend e-mailed me be­fore Christ­mas to reach out for sup­port. His 50-year-old wife was due for la­paro­scopic surgery to re­pair a heart valve.

“Her out­look is very good,” he wrote. “Please say a prayer for her.”

Of course I would, I told him, while as­sur­ing him that the pro­ce­dure was rou­tine and low risk.

“It is rou­tine,” he said. “But when it’s your wife on the ta­ble, it’s tough.”

My friend’s world was then thumped.

The surgery had com­pli­ca­tions. His wife was placed in a med­i­cally in­duced coma and a few weeks later she died, leav­ing be­hind her hus­band and 9-yearold daugh­ter.

The loss was dev­as­tat­ing. The woman was so young with so much life left to live. And it is crush­ing that a lit­tle girl must learn life’s hard truths so early.

It seemed like a week of ex­is­ten­tial pain.

Ev­ery­one reeled when rock mu­si­cian David Bowie died of can­cer just as it ap­peared he was about to launch a new phase of his ca­reer. Then rock star Glenn Frey of the Ea­gles suc­cumbed to mul­ti­ple health prob­lems.

As so­cial me­dia sites blew up with mourn­ing for th­ese celebri­ties, I couldn’t get over the loss my friend ex­pe­ri­enced.

For mem­bers of the press, death is al­most a cor­ner­stone of the busi­ness. It is easy to be­come numb to it as a way to cope.

In my 26 years of re­port­ing, I have cov­ered ev­ery­thing from mass shoot­ings to child killings and even the hor­rific Asian tsunami.

On that 2004 as­sign­ment, Den­ver Post pho­tog­ra­pher He­len D. Richard­son and I trav­eled to the In­done­sian prov­ince of Banda Aceh, where an es­ti­mated 31,000 peo­ple died.

Whole vil­lages were scoured from the land. Homes were blown off foun­da­tions. Boats were stranded on rooftops.

Vis­it­ing a camp of dis­placed peo­ple, I in­ter­viewed a group of or­phans. One had lost ev­ery one of his rel­a­tives. The boy was sur­rounded by other kids with the same story, who teased him when he be­gan to cry. I took this not to be cru­elty or bul­ly­ing, but an en­tire com­mu­nity griev­ing to­gether and no one’s grief su­perced­ing the rest.

It is easy to an­a­lyze death as an out­sider to the pain. But even if you have grimly de­vel­oped a cal­lous to deal­ing with tragedies, Melville’s thumps will even­tu­ally get to you.

Over the past years I have ex­pe­ri­enced my own thumps— loved ones dy­ing, my brother get­ting can­cer and my mother strug­gling with Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

I dread what is inevitably com­ing, yet I love the life I live and know I am not alone.

“And so the uni­ver­sal thump is passed round,” writesMelville. “And all hands should rub each other’s shoul­der-blades, and be con­tent.” E-mail Jere­myMeyer at jp­meyer@den­ver­post.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: jp­mey­erd­post

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