By Jim Poling
So many people are dying in California.
Almost 30,00 people in the state have died from Covid-19. Three dozen or more perished last year in the state’s 9,000-plus wildfires. Then there’s the roughly 3,000 deaths a year from gun violence.
Tens of thousands of tragic deaths that are of no remarkable interest to people living in distant places.
However, three recent California deaths grabbed my interest, reminding me dramatically just how fickle life is, and how our lives are connected.
A family of four was walking the Pacific Ocean shoreline when a rogue wave slammed into the beach. The dad and his two young children were carried off and drowned. The mom survived.
My daughter and her family live in the San Francisco area and took some interest in reports of the tragedy because they go to the beaches. They probably had walked the scene of the tragedy, a beach at Goat Rock State Park in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.
My daughter says rogue waves seem to be increasing and this is backed by a variety of scientific studies. But the Goat Park drownings were just another beach tragedy and a warning to be cautious about ocean beach visits.
Just another, until I saw an unusual obituary notice in the Toronto Globe and Mail.
The obituary was about Michael Wyman and his children, Anna, 7, and John, 4, who were caught by a rogue wave and drowned at Goat State Park on Jan. 3. Why would the Globe and Mail publish the obituary for three Sonoma County people drowned while walking a California beach?
Then it struck me. Michael Wyman was a Canadian I knew when he was a child.
The Wymans lived in Ottawa not far from us when my family lived there many years ago. In fact, my daughter Marcella babysat Michael and his older sister Katrina.
More importantly, a neighbour and very close friend of ours was Michael’s caregiver while his parents worked. Over the years he became like a member of her family, a third son and little brother. They remained close over the years.
Time moved on and people went their separate ways. Michael was a bright young man, nurtured by a well-educated mom and dad and what had become his second family, our friends up the street.
He got a terrific education, including degrees from Upper Canada College, the University of Toronto and Oxford. He earned a law degree, plus a Chartered Financial Analyst designation.
He practised corporate law in New York City and was involved in promoting solar power projects. It was in New York that he met and married Sarah Brennan, a scientist who studies cancer biology. They moved from New York in 2017 to fulfill a dream of living in California.
Michael drowned while holding onto his son and trying to reach his daughter. It was a scene described later as a horrid tragedy, but one marked with love and heroism.
His wife and bystanders pulled him from the surf but paramedics were unable to revive him. The bodies of the two children were swept out to sea.
Three days later, on the other side of the United States, there was another tragic scene – an American version of Kristallnacht, the 1938 violent attacks against Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, in a mindless smashing and looting spree that ended with five people dead.
On one side of the country terrible misfortune marked with courage, intelligence and love. On the other side, tragedy marked by stupidity and hatred.
When I think about those two deadly incidents I want to stand up and scream: Why? Why do decent, intelligent people get taken away? People with brains, training and positive attitudes that help make our flawed world a better place.
Why do the stupid ones, whose only contributions to society are negative thoughts, negative actions and hatred, get to hang around trying to pull the rest of us down to their level?
They are no use in building a better society. They are like the twisted timbers and broken bricks that carpenters and masons toss aside when building the best of homes.
Why? There doesn’t seem to be an answer.