The random senselessness of death

Originally, this post was going to be about the particular life stage in which I find myself and how it relates to Purim. I had been thinking of writing about this for some time, but God, apparently, had other plans. Maybe I'll get back to it on a day that doesn't include a funeral.

I wish I could rewind the past three days and return to Sunday, before Isaac Meyers was hit by a truck and killed on his way to a shiva minyan on Monday morning in Central Square, Cambridge, Mass. Seriously. On his way to a shiva minyan. at 6:45 am. If that isn't theodicy, I don't know what is. (And, yes, this is the second person I have known who has been killed after being hit by a motor vehicle on the streets of Cambridge, Mass.)

I did not know Isaac well. He went to Yale; I went to Harvard. (We weren't forsworn enemies, though! I have long had a particular fondness for Yalies and know quite a few.)

I met him once in my apartment, when he was hanging out with a roommate who had gone to college with him. He had only just met me, but he invited me to a barbecue. For some reason that I no longer recall--possibly embarrassment or discomfort at being invited to a barbecue of a person I'd only just met--I declined. I met Isaac another time or two when I was visiting Cambridge. He moved there after I left, but he was friends with a lot of my friends there, and also a neighbor to several friends. I saw him at the Ortho minyan on more than one occasion, I am sure. I think I shared a Shabbat meal with him. I got some of his hilarious e-mails, including one where he channeled Cynthia Ozick in writing weekly Shabbat announcements for the Harvard Hillel Orthodox Minyan:
A number of entries for the position of Announcement Writer have been received to date, some from unknowns hoping to make their mark, others from established figures on the literary scene. In order to encourage further interest in the post, we are including excerpts from some of the more notable applications. These didn't make it, but you might! The first is from a Mrs. C. Ozick:

"All was still and silent in Cambridge that evening in early July. A heavy humidity weighted with gloom all who found themselves stranded there Independence Day weekend. Then, faintly, in the distance, but now ever loudening and growing in clarity, the sound of davening could be heard: mincha. The offering of the afternoon! O blessed expression of preprandial spirituality! No humble, dank devotion, this, but men and women standing, be-mechitza'd, in glorious self-affirmation: Jewish nationhood here, now, alive; and what honeyed drink of prickly pineapple and obdurate coconut--what backgazing bacchanal, gaudy with fireworks, a-rage with the odor of roasted meat--visions of WASPish Nadabs and Abihus, offering strange fires on the Charles--(O relish, inaptly named!)--what poisoned arrow in faithlessness's quiver could taint her people's veins, so long as they stood, swaying as one, in der minkhe-sho, the mincha-hour?"
Even only knowing him in the very peripheral way that I did, he was clearly a funny, smart, thoughtful, adorably quirky person. I knew that he played the ukulele and wrote many of the songs for a band he had formed called The Rothschilds (see recordings here) that parodied Orthodox life, and that he was studying classics at Harvard. (He arrived the year I left.) I learned a lot more about him at his funeral this morning, but, oh, how much would I have preferred to learn these things by getting to know him better directly, rather than through his friends who are mourning his tragic death.

I always thought that he was someone I would like to get to know better if we ever ended up in the same city. I figured it would have to happen one day, and I was probably right, given a statement of Isaac's that a friend of mine shared on the Facebook page dedicated to his memory after his death:
Sometimes I think the world has four quarters: Cambridge, New Haven, the Upper West Side, and Israel, with water (Long Island Sound) in the middle. That just shows what a circumscribed life I lead.
–Isaac Meyers, 6/21/01

The death of a person such as this, at the age of 28, is utterly random and senseless and I refuse to attach any meaning to it. Someone asked me why this happened. And my answer is that it happened for no reason at all. It happened because a truck was turning onto a street and did not see someone who was standing in the crosswalk, about to cross on a walk signal. It didn't happen for a reason. It totally, utterly sucks. And it hurts. A whole lot. And it's going to hurt for a good long while. He isn't coming back. The hole that he left will never be filled by anyone else--that is the beauty and the tragedy of our irreplicable individuality. It is not fair. It is not right. It is certainly not just. And it cannot be undone.

I wish I had gone to that barbecue.

Yehi zichro baruch
. May his memory be for a blessing.


alg's mother said...

Pedestrian deaths (often an elderly person) are such a major part of motor vehicle deaths in Israel, that there are now public service announcements on the radio, urging motorists to watch out for pedestrians. I always thought that in the US, where drivers tend to be more cautious and courteous, pedestrians were relatively safe. Please be a defensive pedestrian!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this sensitive tribute to Isaac.

elf said...

Thanks, alg. That's exactly how I feel.

Richard said...

I am working on behalf of the family of Isaac Meyers and I am interested in speaking with anyone who may have witnessed his accident.
Please call me at 617-789-4300.
Thank you,
Richard DiNatale

Anonymous said...

Richard --- I'm not sure if you're real or not, but if you google Isaac's name you can turn up a few witnesses' accounts. This blog isn't the right place to find them. Some have posted to blogs. One man who says he was walking behind Isaac posted on one of the blogs http://chemiche.blogspot.com and his account says that there was also a newspaper distributor. You can post to the Cambridge live journal too.