It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you.
A call received,
A favour asked,
“Did you read the paper today?
So you know what happened?
That was at one of ours.
We need a condolence letter.
Can you fax it within the hour?”
I remember the first time I learned about death—human death, anyways, God knows we went through pets pretty fast in those days—a couple of dogs, a cat, a bird, the maritime disaster in the fish tank—but with people . . . well let’s put it this way: when you’re flushing a dead fish down the toilet you don’t normally think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. But with a person. “You may have noticed someone isn’t here today. I’m afraid I have to announce that Scott was killed in a car crash on Saturday.” I’d just been talking to him the Friday before—probably the only conversation we had ever really had. We were just walking together after school, carrying our adidas bags, talking about nothing in particular. He stopped for the bus. I kept on walking. What if we hadn’t talked or if we had talked a little longer, just another few seconds? Wouldn’t that have been enough to throw his whole life (and death) off schedule?
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones
His wife will arrive in the afternoon to claim the body.
Leaving four children in Pakistan
To await her return.
The beginning is always the easiest part
Of a letter,
Of a life.
But after that there are choices,
I can’t type another word.
What is there to say to a woman I don’t know
About a man I never knew
And never will?
So I look to the right.
Stuck on the office wall
A JPEG image, printed out
Each pixel a single square of solid colour.
the squares together form
Of two children.
A wild girl with stickers of blue and gold stars covering her eyes
Holding her little brother,
His hair coiling down to his shoulders in a mane of ringlets
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones on the tragic death in the line of duty
What was he thinking
With the shotgun raised
His finger at the trigger?
Why did he hesitate?
I phone home
The starry-eyed girl is at kindergarten
The curly-haired boy answers
Electrons coursing down a wire,
A stream of numbers,
Each a one or a zero,
But the numbers together forming
I listen for a while
To the flow of his voice.
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones on the tragic death in the line of duty of your husband, Zafar Iqbal Khan.
What will become of this letter?
Will it be torn up?
Will it lie untouched at the bottom of a box,
Will it be kept pristine in an envelope in a folder in a drawer
To be brought out when the moment is right
The folds on the page becoming sharper each time
As the words rewrite themselves.
A letter to a widow.
Nothing to it.
Nothing that hasn’t already been done a million times before.
I heard that Brian died.
He had been married to a friend
She lost her husband one last time
While her son regained a father.
A riddle it’s best not to ponder.
I didn’t know what to say
Other than “I’m sorry to hear”
I didn’t know him well.
Saw him sometimes in the gym
He looked fit.
But survival of the fittest deals in averages.
Grief deals in specifics,
Each death leaving its own empty spaces.
Is there comfort in knowing his wife and children will cope
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones on the tragic death in the line of duty of your husband, Zafar Iqbal Khan. His selfless bravery, his immense respect for life and his desire to protect the innocent are an inspiration to all of us. Our prayers go out to you and your children.
Then there was that time about a year later—the summer between Grades 11 and 12. Sheer stupidity. I was cycling. To get my mind off something, not just any something, but finding out my girlfriend at the time had been with another guy. So I’m going down Walkey and I turn onto Heron and just go cruising though the stop sign without thinking once let alone twice and right into the path of a Blueline taxi. Black Lincoln Continental. I don’t know whether I saw it first or heard it—the squealing tires. I went up over the hood, my back shattering the windscreen. As I’m flying through the air, all I can think is “oh shit”, not very poetic I know, but probably pretty common last words all the same. I blacked out for a moment, but came to and saw the sky falling away beneath my feet, giving me enough time to break my fall with an arm. If I had opened my eyes a second later. . .?
All it takes is that second
For an accident
For a skull to be smashed
For a heart to cease beating
For a trigger to be pulled
A good man has gone
But his ghost remains.
Somewhere in the pixels that form the starry-eyed girl
Somewhere in the electrons that pulse down the wire from the curly-haired boy.
Somewhere in the code of all things.
Our prayers go out to you and your children. We pray that his soul is at peace and that his courage will be rewarded in heaven as it will be remembered here on earth. We pray that as his children grow up, they will always carry with them the knowledge that their father was a great man who revered life. And we pray that they will inherit his bravery and his dignity.
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you
~by Stephen Richards (Hong Kong, Canada)
This poem is about a real event—the shooting death of a security guard in a bank (in case you are not familiar with the term, ‘ghost writing’ is when you write on behalf of a person who is then assumed to be the author).
I wish there was a lot less pain in the world. Yeah, I know, ‘we need the pain to truly experience and appreciate the joy of life’. I just can’t help but think that the balance is off. We don’t need that much sorrow, do we?
I recently came across a quote from Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I wish I could find more meaning in life, but for now I’ll settle for just trying my best to live by these words.
~by Stephen Richards (longzijun)
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