Matt survived. Jill did not. She was six months pregnant and had just found out that they were expecting a little girl in November.
When I googled Jill’s name to try and get more information, the first four links that came up were to stories came up with some version of the headline “pregnant woman drowns off NC”. The fifth link is to their online baby registry. The second-to-last post on Matt’s Facebook page is from Jill talking about how excited they are to be having a girl. His profile says he is married to Jill Bailey Chenet. Yesterday he was.
Before this happened, I was obsessed with that crazy movie theater shooting in Denver. As with most horrific mass killings that pivot around people doing things I can picture myself doing (going to work on a beautiful Tuesday morning, waiting in line to see a congresswoman, seeing a late night show), I slip into a vortex where all I can do is consume information. I think I am not unlike a lot of other Americans in this way. Information is power. And when life events unfold in a way that make us feel our inherent powerlessness, we want to tip the balance, to re-take the reigns, to create a sense of steadiness -- no matter how hollow.
Matt is a surfer who grew up around the water. He knows his way around a wave. Knowing Matt and how much he loves the ocean, it’s hard to even imagine what might have happened. In my mind I can’t stop picturing Jill tiring out from fighting the current as they try to wait out the rip tide, Matt holding her up and treading water for both of them until he just can’t anymore. How people will tell him he is “lucky” to be alive, but probably for a long time to come he will wish, if he couldn’t have saved them both, that he had slipped away with her.
I didn’t know Jill very well. I met her once, 3 years ago when she and Matt came to a screening of the documentary I produced. In our brief encounter I could tell immdiately that she was kind and lovely and made my friend Matt very, very happy. Maybe she knew her way around a wave too. I don’t know.
But I do know it must felt like the most natural thing in the world to go
for a quick swim before dinner at the beach you vacation at every year. Just like it’s the most normal thing in the world to go see a movie at midnight…
Nowhere feels safe. That’s the cliché in moments like these. And honestly, in most the literal sense, it’s true. At any point, anyone or anything can act outside of the order of things, outside our expectations -- with devastating consequences.
My heart is breaking for my friend and I am once again this week trying to make sense out of the inherently senseless, but this time the senseless is much more personal. What I am realizing is this: we just have two choices, to live as if everything is scary because we think could die or to live as if nothing is scary because we know at some point we will.
In the Rat Race of our work lives information might be power, but in all the ways that it really counts, embracing life from a place of love and joy and gratitude is most the powerful thing we can possibly do. That and give more hugs. Hugs are important.