Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.
– Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
Over nearly 19 years living in Whistler and working at Pique
and the Whistler Question I’ve had to deal, at a certain level, with death
numerous times — interviewing family and friends of people who have died,
writing stories, editing reporters’ stories.
Anyone who has lived in Whistler for any length of time has
known someone who died too young. It has always seemed remarkable to me how
many people this community has lost, in the mountains, on the highway…
While every one was a tragedy and a terrible loss for family
and friends, for the most part I was blissfully little affected. I sympathized,
I was saddened, but then I moved on. I’d come to accept that, unfortunately,
there are Whistler people and people visiting Whistler who die every year.
All that changed three weeks ago, on the side of a road in
New Zealand, when my wife, my partner, the publisher of Pique Newsmagazine,
Kathy Barnett, died. I am now trying to comprehend death on a new level.
Prior to this it was, curiously, the death of American
journalist David Halberstam last spring that seemed to have more impact on me
than many Whistlerites’ deaths. Kathy and I heard Halberstam speak in January
last year. I became a fan after reading one of his best-known books, The Best
and the Brightest. When he was killed in a midday car accident in a San
Francisco intersection the sudden, unexpected outcome of a normally safe
situation stunned me. A man who had covered the Vietnam War, the civil rights
movement in the ’50s and taken on governments and corporate institutions died
while being driven to an interview with a retired NFL quarterback. The
randomness just didn’t make sense.
Similarly, the death of Linda Carney several years ago, on a
golf course when a tree fell, was also the result of such a random act that it
didn’t seem possible.
Kathy’s death probably never will make sense. That three
people — two from Whistler and one from Seattle — should travel halfway around
the world to ride their bikes and that one of them happened to be riding on the
shoulder of a particular road at the same time as a driver decided to crowd
that shoulder… the odds seem very long.