Jillian came down for a visit this past weekend. We were doing the Expedition Everest 5K at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the plan was to do the various theme parks all four days she was here, capping things off with Star Wars Day at the Hollywood Studios. I hadn’t seen her since our California trip in January, so I was really looking forward to spending some quality time with her.
Then life came along and made things all kinds of complicated.
First, her grandfather wasn’t feeling well Friday morning, when she was supposed to leave for Orlando. Not wanting to leave him alone until she knew he was going to be okay, she delayed her departure for a while. He got better — likely a reaction to some medication — but she decided she would leave Monday afternoon rather than Tuesday morning, just to not leave him on his own for too long. And while I was disappointed at the shortened visit, of course her family comes first.
Then came Saturday night, the night of the race. She looked fantastic in her homemade zebra costume (based on the character from the Festival of the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom), got plenty of compliments, and met up with a bunch of people she knew from her various Facebook groups. We waited excitedly in our corral for the race to start, inched towards the starting line, and finally took off. We didn’t push too hard, since there wouldn’t be a hard cut-off, and we neared the halfway point feeling pretty good and looking forward to the rest of the evening.
That’s when we passed a group of paramedics hunched over someone to the side of the course. Someone probably fell, twisted an ankle or scraped a knee. Except you don’t do rapid chest compressions for a scraped knee. It became clear this was really serious, as the paramedic was pounding away on this man’s chest with desperate fervor. We didn’t want to stare, but it was hard to look away. We made the turnaround and passed the scene again, and now the man was a gurney, the paramedic still atop him, others holding various IV tubes and bottles as they rushed to the nearby ambulance. And where the man had been a few minutes ago, another man of the same age stood in a daze, not sure where to go; obviously a friend of the stricken man. We felt so bad for him. We wanted to approach him, to offer some small comfort, but had no idea how to do so without seeming weird or intrusive. So we moved on, our mood somewhat darkened. What had just been a leisurely run through a darkened theme park now had conjured thoughts of the frailty of our lives, how quickly things can turn, how any moment could be our last.
But soon we finished the race and started the scavenger hunt that formed the second half of the challenge. And while the well-being of the man was still in our minds, with many who’d seen him taking to Facebook to ask if anyone had heard any word on his condition, we went on with our evening. We finished the scavenger hunt, received our medals, and wearily made our way around the after party for an hour or so. But a long day awaited us on Sunday (which it now already was), so we sleepily made our way home to rest up.
Life intruded once again. An early morning phone call from the boarding kennel where Jillian had left her dog woke us up. Sita had passed away during the night. There had been no indication of any problems the night before, so the staff was just as stunned as Jillian was. She broke down crying in my arms, and when she composed herself, said she’d need to leave that afternoon so she could take care of arrangements first thing Monday morning. She apologized for having to cut our weekend short, an apology I made sure she knew was absolutely unnecessary. Still, it was sad seeing her go, both for the reason and for the consequences.
I still went through with our plans for Sunday and Monday. I wore the shirt I’d bought from her college on Sunday so she’d be there in spirit, and Monday rushed over to the Hollywood Studios to buy the Star Wars Day merchandise she wanted. I had a good time, although not nearly as much of one had she been there. But I knew she needed to be home, to get some closure on the loss of her friend, and that I would be seeing her again soon, under happier circumstances.
Through it all though I was struck by the microcosm of life the events of the weekend represented. It started with worrying about someone near the end of their life, continued through someone fighting for theirs, and ended with a beloved companion losing hers. All these vivid reminders of how brief our time here really is. And yet surrounding these moments was laughter and silliness and triumph and love.
All the things that make that brief time worth it.