With the first snowfall and turning back the clocks, winter and the season of darkness has descended. Here in Portland it began with an unthinkable tragedy–the horrific deaths of five young people, all friends, and another critically injured, in the deadliest house fire in Maine in decades. Our community is reeling. Family and friends ache with sadness, grief, unanswered questions. There is so much darkness that it would be easy to slip into its gaping hole and free fall into depression, apathy, emptiness.
And yet, even behind this black veil of sorrow that covers the hollow house and loved ones’ faces, we return to the spirit and memory of the victims and the light they brought into the world. Look at their faces. Full of joy, smiles, beauty.
I knew Nicole. She was always bright, happy, quick to smile or laugh, never too busy to say hello. She radiated an inner warmth, a shining light that landed on you and made you feel pleasant inside, just a bit more buoyant, like she was. This was Nicole’s gift of presence and soul to all who knew her. She was lovely inside and out, and lived her life in the same way–embracing its richness and fun and love at every chance–and encouraging those she met along the way to join her, even for a moment, by resting in her smile.
I don’t understand how she could be gone. Nicole and her friends, young, promising and talented, taken much too soon. I don’t believe we can ever make sense of these tragedies and losses, at least not while we are on this earth, bound by our human bodies and minds. But we keep trying. And as we do, we are drawn to the memories and the pictures that call out edicts to us: “be in this world, smile, love your friends, do silly things, dance, kiss, laugh, live it all.”
The power of Nicole’s spirit was pure light. I had the incredible privilege of witnessing it in the short time I knew her. You can see it in her photo. The challenge she has left us is to see it in ourselves.