Rosa Shull died two days ago. She was in her early twenties
Death is almost always as surprising as it is inevitable. Despite images of the River Styx, with their tease of boats and crossings, the chasm between life and death is so total, so irrevocable, that it stuns us with its non-negotiable finality, its inflexible refusal to enter into dialogue. It goes in one direction only and won’t hear our pleas. Our needs are not its needs.
To be dead is to be parted from this earth as embodied, moving flesh, no matter what paradise, heaven or new life lies on the other side. I trust in an afterlife; I grieve the loss of this life.
Rosa, your death—so sudden, so unexpected, so young—is like the proverbial blow to the solar plexus, leaving me gasping, airless, groping for direction. How could it be? How could someone so vitally alive, so personable, bright, kind, artistic, with such an abundance of gifts to pour out on humanity, have died? How could someone so infused with the life force be gone? The mind reels.
I have a memory of you and Sophie walking across the Olney campus in front of the Main Building, a sunny day early in the Fall of your senior year. You both have short haircuts, that come to some sort of V at the back of your necks. You are both tall, blond, light eyed. You walk side by side with a confidence that is infectious, startling, healthy, alive, sharply radiant.
In another memory, we are at lunch and you are talking about a dessert—a pastry—that your grandmother used to make for you in Russia (or was it the Ukraine?), where you presented a seamless merging of a life far away and the present moment.
Annie Dillard writes, “I was …ringing. I had been my whole life a bell.” That is you, with your clear voice, the ringing, rounded cadences of a Midwestern accent, yet beneath the surface, music rising up and down, laughter.
I want to believe that when we die, we are transported to another "place," where we don’t know we’ve died, where we wake up and are healed and everything bad that went before is revealed to be a nightmare, an illusion. We go home and our relationships are whole and holy, infused with light. People we thought are dead are alive and present. We overflow with joy because everything has been set aright. We praise, we sing, we laugh.
Rosa, I can’t believe you are gone—it simply defies my soul’s comprehension—yet I can imagine you in heaven and also feel your spirit suffusing the earth. In the future, I will see you in things that move and remind me of your voice. All is still outside my window, but in a shadow of the window, cast on the carpet as a square of light, shadows move rapidly, dancing, waving at me.