My Letter

May 19, 2018

My relationship with death is binary. Sometimes I feel like a child, afraid of a monster in the closet soon to reach me with its inevitable, sharp claws. Other times I am filled with a sense of wisdom and rebellion, looking up at a vast, starry sky, sure I will conquer life - and thus, death - to my satisfaction.

I have a visceral response to scenes and stories of death, even the deaths of strangers. I can feel a weight of sadness; I can gasp for air and cry hysterically if a death was particularly cruel or unjust. I'm sure in many ways, I'm like everybody else in the way the uncertain abyss of death brings foreboding and terror.

Over the past decade, in my community, two young women met tragic fates. One, Eve, I never knew. The other, Jamie, I'd only spoken to through email and heard about through mutual connections. The deaths of both, however, consumed me for weeks. I searched for the motives of their killers. I contemplated scenarios in which they'd overcame their attackers and emerged triumphant survivors. I wondered if something was wrong with me. I didn't know these women; no one they knew would consider me a friend of theirs. But still, I was drawn to their stories. I cried for them in my private home.

When I asked myself why this was, I could come to only one conclusion: That so much lost potential was a pain very difficult to bear, personal ties or none. They were young, idealists, working to make a difference, and on the brink of changing the world. But, because of someone else's selfish choice - that fast, unexpected moment in time - that brink would never come. Maybe, I saw them as distant sisters in the cause. Maybe, I saw some part of myself in them.

I played with questions of fate, chance, and the meaning of life and determined it's not my personal death that terrifies me, but a fear that in some trillion years, our sun will go out and leave humanity's stories and legends to ash; mine and everyone else's.

One night recently, this thought kept me awake. I struggled to articulate my fears to Shane. We spoke until four in the morning. In the end, I grasped at the only conclusion that brought me, finally, some comfort: I control what happens here. I am the maker and the monarch of my destiny.

To create a ripple throughout the world and through time is, to me, a sort of becoming immortal. A body can be gone. Even stories of one's life can fade. But a life that has nudged, pulled, pushed, or thrust others toward beauty, happiness, love and fulfillment is one that will never end.

This belief is why I have chosen my particular life path: To activate as many others as I can to use their own lives creating their own ripples of good. These ripples all together, intersecting and spreading like sound waves, will echo endlessly into the universe past the sun's expiration.

Amber M. Smith

Amber M. Smith, Cause Champion

This letter is part of the Death Letter Project - North Carolina, a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


Michael Palko