Submitted by Ben Ayers on Thu, 2010-08-12 09:50.
I’m 35,000 feet above somewhere between Washington DC and Doha, on an airplane full of salt-eyed travelers snoozing under the tiny fluorescent lights. I realize now that I am aware of death, but I do not understand it at all.
Just before the flight departed, I got a phone call telling me that a close friend and colleague, Dr. Tom Grams, was among the 10 aid workers that were murdered in Afghanistan this past Thursday. I worked with Tom for a number of years as he helped spearhead the Global Dental Relief programs in Nepal. Tom retired from his dental practice in Colorado a number of years ago, and devoted his life putting his skills to use around the world with a particular focus on Nepal, India, and Afghanistan. Tom was the type of friend who could be counted on to smuggle the gin and the Scrabble board into the Buddhist monastery – the type of person who was always planning adventures and, alongside whom, they always seemed possible. Tom didn’t simply seem to have this life business sorted out – he had it dialed.
So often, it seems, we hear these stories of really really good people leaving us suddenly and tragically. It leaves us bewildered to be denied some sense of justice in death, or a sense of reasoning to it. Tom’s death has blown my veil of karma apart. No longer can I hold onto the belief that the simple algebra of good deeds and having a good heart will keep me protected. Life is truly more complex than I am capable of comprehending – the truth, or at least the dimension where everything makes sense must be on a plane that I cannot see yet. This is the sort of thing that I would have wanted to ask Tom about. When he was alive, he would have certainly had some answers or insights to share. And now, wherever he is, he probably has even more.
As I’ve sat here, thinking about Tom, I’ve begun to feel awash with love and gratitude for all of the strangers around me -- for the simple beauty of being alive. -- and I can’t sort it all out. It’s such a strange thing to be feeling, especially when butted-up against the grief of losing Tom. And I suppose that’s the greatest truth of death – that it simply doesn’t make any sense when held up against all of the lenses and rationale that we depend upon to live. It’s the energy captured in this paradox that makes life so mysterious, so precious, and so terrifying.
Rest in Peace, Tom. We miss you.
Photo: Dave O'Leske