Two Fridays ago I attempted to revise part II of the series about bike parking that I wrote two years ago. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to care about something as trivial as bike parking once I learned that Ronan, my childhood classmate Emily Rapp’s son, died in the early hours of the morning on Friday, February 15th.
Ronan was just shy of his third birthday, but his health had been steadily deteriorating since he was diagnosed with Tay Sachs—a rare and fatal disease—two years ago. Although I never knew Ronan personally and haven’t seen Emily since our playground days in Laramie, Wyoming, Emily’s photos of, writings about, and love for her son have touched me and countless others around the globe. I am filled with sadness that her gorgeous baby boy shared such a short time with us here on earth.
I couldn’t stop my tears that Friday night thinking about Ronan and Emily, and I felt compelled to try to write something in hope of clarifying all of the emotions that were swelling up in me. I don’t exactly call myself a writer (this is just my third blog entry in two years, after all) and I fear my intentions will eclipse my abilities to express my feelings coherently—kind of like when I’ve tried to sketch something beautiful that I’ve seen and it turns out fairly mediocre. For this, I apologize.
Through Emily’s writings and facebook posts, it is easy to see her love and care for her son. Beyond things like looking for better medicine to treat his seizures, I was impressed by how she did everything she could to bring him comfort and joy during his last days—things like seeking out harpists to play him music and creating a cozy nest for him surrounded by stuffed animals and handmade quilts. In the end, though, I imagine one of the most comforting things for Ronan was to be held by his mommy, and if he was still able to, to smell her and hear her voice—a voice that he knew from the time when he was in the womb.
I also understand this love on an instinctual level as a mother. When I was pregnant with my son, I knew that I would love him, but I wasn’t ready for how overpowering a feeling it would be once he was born. I wasn’t prepared for the hours of not sleeping—not because I was trying to get him to sleep, but because I was watching him breathe, admiring his long eyelashes and feeling the warmth of his little body snuggled next to mine. I never thought I would love a little person so much—as I envision Emily loves her Ronan.
With all that love also comes an incredible sense of vulnerability and possibility of loss. It’s the other thing that keeps me up at night—it is why I cried nearly every time I read a post by Emily, why I cried when I heard about the shootings at Newtown, and why I can’t watch movies like Life is Beautiful anymore. It is why I feel especially heartbroken about Ronan’s suffering with Tay Sachs disease and the pain and loss his parents have endured. And it is why I think Emily is one of the bravest persons I’ve ever encountered.
I don’t know what happens to people when they die, but I like to think that Ronan, wherever his soul or spirit is, still feels the warmth and comfort of his mother’s loving arms rocking him gently down to sleep.
Rest in peace, sweet Ronan, thank you for touching my heart. And for Emily and Ronan’s father, Rick Louis, and all those who loved and knew Ronan—sending you all the love, courage, and hope in the world.
Below is a relato or short story written by Eduardo Galeano that was read at my wedding. I came across it again yesterday afternoon and the last phrase made me think of Emily and Ronan: “others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.” I see vibrant light and beauty in both Emily and Ronan, which became ever more brilliant when reflected between the two of them.
Many beautiful photos of Emily and Ronan are posted on their facebook pages. Here are some of my favorites that capture their beautiful light and energy: Emily kissing Ronan (July 2012), Ronan grabbing his mommy’s nose (March 2011), Beautiful Ronan (July 2012)
A man from the town of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, could climb into the sky.
On his return, he described his trip. He told how he had contemplated human life from on high. He said we are a sea of tiny flames.
“The world,” he revealed, “is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames.”
Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.
—Eduardo Galeano, from The Book of Embraces translated from the Spanish by Cedric Belfrage