That's what we're supposed to feel--to be grateful for--now. Moments after the bodies of John, Carolyn and Lauren were found strapped inside the Piper's crumpled fuselage, people started talking about closure, saying things like, "Now, the victims' families and the nation can have some closure." Perhaps it's true.
But I don't want closure. I don't want to get the tiniest bit used to the notion of a dead John F. Kennedy Jr., of anyone pulsating with that much life, losing it. By Monday, my son, 13, and I must have been among the last people on Earth hoping that the trio in the plane had somehow beaten the haze on that moonless, enveloping night.
Once the bodies were found, I told Darrell how I'd enjoyed hoping they were alive, "maybe on some island, partying, chilling out." The cynic in me added, "Of course that was bull."
To which Darrell replied, "Good bull."
Like a lot of people, I've been snatched in numerous directions the past week. One minute, I'd greedily partake of the media smorgasbord cooked up by news organizations following last Friday's plane crash; the next, I'd recoil from it.
The cynic in me would ask, "What, really, did this guy do?" Don't fatherless young people die every day--people who weren't born rich and privileged and with more hair per square inch of scalp than everyone else, good people who never enjoyed the millions, the Manhattan lofts and the panting fans that were Kennedy's lot? Would everyone be as devastated by his early exit if he'd been paunchy and bald, not off-the-chart gorgeous?
Then the memories, the sense of loss, return. Once again, I'm 9, feeling astonishment at the sight of my strict fourth-grade teacher crying over President Kennedy's death. I can see John-John--so close in age to my own chubby-legged brother--saluting. Camelot wasn't just a dead myth as long as this cute tot, then gawky teen, then handsome man lived.
But discussions about the premature celebrity deaths--whether about bulimic princesses or sad-eyed rappers or platinum blond movie stars--do a disservice to the complexity of our emotions. Who really can explain why people who have little direct impact on our lives touch us so deeply?
Much of our mourning isn't even for the departed. It's for our own lost dreams, for the lack of control death represents. I didn't cry for Kennedy until the TV coverage of the triple burial at sea. For viewers, the ceremony consisted of talking heads yammering over a distant shot of the battleship from which Kennedy's and the Bessette sisters' ashes were tossed. A pity it wasn't a sailboat--a vessel as elegant and sleek as the victims themselves.
My tears were spurred by related and unrelated images: John F. Kennedy Jr.; my own recently deceased father; the Bessette sisters and their twice-deprived family; Kennedy's sister, Caroline; and of my own departed brother and the years it took me to arrive at anything resembling closure after his death.
So I told myself I wasn't really crying for Kennedy. Though I surely was.
Why? Maybe because he, like his sister, seemed to be doing things right. Maybe because in the past decade, I saw far more images of John Jr., heard more about him, than I did certain beloved friends and relatives. Like Henry Higgins, we've grown accustomed to certain faces, to the presence of special strangers in our lives.
And to our fantasies of their lives. Tabloids notwithstanding, we know little about celebrities' everyday lives--except that they must be better than ours. Plane crashes, drug overdoses, inexplicable suicides remind us that the symmetry that we often ascribe to famous people's existences doesn't exist. Everyone is vulnerable.
Some of us resent being reminded. You'd think JFK Jr. was the only American male who enjoyed kayaking, rappeling and piloting a plane. The only one who ever behaved rashly or made a horrible, fatal mistake. Every day, I see men and women drive, ride their bikes or even cross the street with utter recklessness, flirting with injury and death.
The cynic in me can't talk me out of my sadness about this death, and the deaths that accompanied it.
Which is fine. We shouldn't be shamed into rejecting our love--not the intimate, forever-love inspired by family and friends, but love nonetheless--for those whom we know only through their photos, films and recorded voices, through our aching fantasies.
By crying for Kennedy, I tell my inner cynic, we're crying for all the promising young people who die anonymously before their time. We're crying for those for whom closure came too easily, men and women we would have loved had their images had been thrust upon us.
That, the cynic responds, is bull.