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i was called back home in august 2020 by my mother’s news. her childhood friend t. had kidney cancer, was coming from addis to stay with us for treatment. it all happened very quickly: the descent of the illness, the tumor rearing its head.  an initial glimmer of hope soon gave way to the reality that she wouldn’t in fact make it.  i think of the still resignation of my father’s face and the worried lines in my mother’s. the day of her first fainting and trip to the emergency room. eventually she left because she wanted to die on ethiopian soil, the land of her home.

t. shares the birthday of my best friend.  she’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, the embodiment of glamor. strong, smart, stubborn. she raises her right eyebrow at me in a sly smile too many times to count. i speak in present tense because i know her spirit is still out there. and also because this story is common, that many of us are caring for another who is living a life that, while slipping away, is lived so courageously, with an undeniable presence that lasts beyond any physical departure.

i was in new mexico the summer preceding – i was surrounded by life in all corners. the backyard garden was growing, sprouts being nursed indoors. (baby chickens, fluttering about in the coop!) it was an oasis, tended to by beloved friends in my life. when i think of love, what a loving life could be – i think of the grace, liveliness, beauty, and spirit of these two. the manner they demonstrate, in which our relationships can be vessels that open us up to the world rather than collapses into itself.

to think back, moments are more intertwined than i first recognized them to be. the first ideas for in the midst sprung in the wake of another sudden, brutal death in my life; a time which was also the cusp of new life blossoming in others dear to me. when t. transitioned that following january, i called my friend with a steeled heart (that, in reality, was drowning in despair) –  he saw through to it and asked me, what was the locus of my hopelessness, sadness, and fear? life doesn’t make sense, i said. we are so small and fragile, and love each other only to be eventually taken away by forces unknown.

i’m thinking, suppose this is the terrible, humbling beauty? of life being stripped to such essence – that we are ephemeral and can share in that vulnerability, struggle, and suffering, still finding life in ourselves and each other. the terrible beauty that otherwise illuminates joyous occasions of togetherness, imbued with whatever forms of love.