The lightning that intercepted Jennifer Young was an automobile lawfully driven on a sunny June morning in Houston. Like the victim, the driver was blameless. Jennifer, thirty years old, was a postdoc in computational and applied mathematics, a gifted, friendly, down-to-earth woman whose office was two floors above mine. She was seven months pregnant and two days after the accident we learned the baby had also died.
Soon after the death of Samuel Johnson’s mother at age ninety, on Jan. 23, 1759, the bereaved son wrote The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. He “composed it in the evenings of one week,” he told Sir Joshua Reynolds. It was his sole work of fiction and ranks, with the periodical essays and Lives of the English Poets, chief among his masterpieces. But first he composed his great meditation on death, The Idler #41, published Jan. 27. His “dreary desolation” is inconsolable:
“The loss of a friend upon whom the heart was fixed, to whom every wish and endeavour was tended, is a state of dreary desolation, in which the mind looks abroad impatient of itself, and finds nothing but emptiness and horror. The blameless life, the artless tenderness, the pious simplicity, the modest resignation, the patient sickness, and the quiet death, are remembered only to add value to the loss, to aggravate regret for what cannot be amended, to deepen sorrow for what cannot be recalled."