I wrote this a week after Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna, and their family friends were killed in a helicopter accident on January 26, 2020. It was not until today, the penultimate Sunday of Lent, that I felt compelled to share.
I don’t know why, but I looked up Kobe Bryant’s funeral today only to find out it still hasn’t happened. This unnerved me, and I don’t fully understand why. Still? Grief has stages, but no timetable. All nine bodies recovered, returned, not yet laid to rest. I think in statements about this horrific accident, I suppose, to try to square it with myself.
Why were they flying in that fog?
It was a frightful and gruesome way to go. Blunt force trauma into the side of a hill on a mountain in Calabasas, California; three weeks of nonstop press; a federal investigation; jerseys, candles, flowers, eyes red from weeping, purple, yellow. Where does this leave Los Angeles? I need to stop reading all the press. I need to look away from the wreckage strewn along the hillside because, more than a week later, it is still there on every article and in every news clip, the scene that none of us can unsee. And there is no way to make this better, no semblance of resolution. I’m angry it was Kobe, Gianna, and their family friends. Fog, blunt force, press. Every shot clock read eight, twenty-four.
Why did it have to be someone who told us he was sorry?
We wanted Kobe to be invincible because he elevated his focus and his work to a high art. Yet all that stares back at us from our screens is the scorched side of the mountain, the delicate trails of white smoke rising to a God I am pleading with for answers. Where does this leave the rest of us? There is no way to make this better. I refuse to believe Kobe was barreling towards that hillside his whole life because it’s just so egregiously unfair.
Like the wreckage of burnt, mangled edges of helicopter scattered along that mountain, none of this fits together anymore. No similes stick, and all my ruminating on the Black excellence Kobe reflected back to us are woefully incomplete. He did what you are supposed to do─he won─and he exploded into the side of a mountain. I was so rattled and angry at God the first few days that I prayed the hours faithfully, earnestly, searchingly: none, sext, vespers, compline. Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri.
I can’t stop thinking about the sound of the impact, the explosion the churchgoers heard and felt from the street below.
It shook the mountain.
Why did You look away?
What does it mean to be recovered, returned, and not yet laid to rest? What does it mean to not know where to land? My mom once told me that funerals are very important for Black people because we need to look death in the face and accept it. I can’t keep looking at the crash site. I write about it to integrate the shock, the outrage, the strangely heavy sorrow, to look unflinchingly at the mountain. I write about it to come back. There is no way to make this better. There is no resolution this side of heaven—only our grief.
I know this to be true. And—not “but”—I don’t know why the Bryants, the Altobellis, and the Mausers had to die that day. And—not “but”—I know enough to know an explanation for an unnecessary helicopter accident is not a place to land. A funeral is not a resolution. It was a horrific accident. And when we acknowledge the mountain, the grief begins to move.