In the end, we’re left with images.
The exuberant shock of hair and the fierce focus in the eyes of the player as he darts upcourt.
The reddish urn, rectangular in shape, the remains inside, resting in a hallowed hall on a pedestal draped in black cloth.
The stooped body and steadfast pace, one regimental foot after another, hands gripping the walker as the man did laps across a British garden.
I didn’t know Jo-Jo Wright. Or Officer Brian Sicknick. Or Capt. Tom Moore. Not personally. But like many people last week, I grieved for them.
They were at different stages of life when they passed. Wright was 15 years old, a sophomore at Uniondale High School, a talented basketball player and all-around great kid with a blazing future. He died in an automobile accident.
Sicknick was 42, a National Guard veteran and a member of the U.S. Capitol Police. He died defending our nation in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
Moore was 100, a World War II veteran who started walking laps in his backyard to raise 1,000 pounds for Britain’s coronavirus-rocked National Health Service, and ended up collecting 33 million pounds — $40 million. He died after testing positive for COVID-19.
It’s true that people die all the time. But it’s hitting a little harder lately, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because of some of the circumstances. Maybe it’s because there’s so much unrelenting death in the news and all around us from the virus. Maybe it’s because so many of us have lost friends or family during these 11 months, and not necessarily to the virus. Maybe that’s helped sharpen our appreciation for the fragility and preciousness of life. Maybe it’s tougher to say goodbye.
Neil Diamond wrote a song years ago whose lyrics began with a list of well-known people, saints and sinners, running the gamut from Jesus Christ to Fanny Brice, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Humphrey Bogart, Buster Keaton to Genghis Khan, Alan Freed to Ho Chi Minh. Each of them, Diamond wrote, had one thing in common:
They have sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon
For bein’ done too soon
And when they’re gone, we often feel that way, too. We, the living, mourning those who were done too soon. Because we always seem to want more, too, before we say goodbye.
One more day. One more conversation. One more hug. One more smile. We want our elders to teach us one more thing about life. We want our youngers to expand our boundaries and reach the limit of their possibilities.
And when we don’t get that one thing more, we yearn.
So we want to see Jo-Jo Wright float through the lane for one more basket and flash one more smile, and Brian Sicknick report for duty at one more post, and Capt. Tom Moore shuffle his way through one more lap in his garden.
We want Christopher Plummer and Hal Holbrook and Cicely Tyson to take one more bow after riveting us with one more portrayal of one more indelible character.
We want Larry King to do one more interview.
We want Cloris Leachman to make us laugh one more time with delightful ditziness.
We want Hank Aaron to — somehow — hit one more home run and make one more graceful trot around the bases.
And so, we conjure images.
In one of his great detective mysteries, Raymond Chandler borrowed from a French phrase when he wrote: To say goodbye is to die a little.
The dead take some of us with them. But they also leave something behind.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.