Daniel Fierro, whom I had known for some 3 or 4 years, was found face-down and naked in a river in Humbolt County, California sometime in the middle of December. He had been there for about a week and it took another week to identify him, as there was no identification on the body. Foul play is not suspected. The police investigating the incident speculate that the cause of death was either hypothermia or drowning.
According to those close to him, Daniel had suffered a number of setbacks in life recently: he was devastated by the dissolution of a romantic relationship and his business enterprise was faltering. He had placed himself on suicide watch several times in the recent past.
It's not clear yet that Daniel intentionally took his own life, but it seems likely. The police investigation found that he had purchased a quantity of over-the-counter drugs and alcoholic beverages before abandoning his car in a parking lot and setting out alone into the northern California woods.
Besides being deeply sorry for Daniel's family and friends, I am perplexed and confounded.
Although I was not a close friend, Daniel was someone for whom I had genuine affection. He had charisma. He was funny. He seemed to know people everywhere. He loved to play cards, and was one of my favorite poker buddies. He greeted people with a smile, and treated them with respect.
My friend, Dave Hauth, and I were discussing the event last night, trying to make sense of it. (A futile effort, I suppose.)
Dave said, "Well, you know, his life was just falling apart."
"But, Dave," I replied, "all of our lives fall apart."
And it's true, right? We all have times when everything around us crumbles and we fight with despair. Yes, Daniel's life was crumbling. Yes, he was facing terrible trials and turmoil. But what was it that caused him this time to succumb? Why did he submit to despair?
In my youth, I would have said that it was weakness that brought about Daniel's demise. I would have said that, in the end, he lacked the courage to face what was to come. But now that I've got a few big defeats of my own in the log book, I know that anyone can succumb. There, but for the Grace of God, go I, as the saying goes.
For some reason, when Daniel went down this time, he couldn't get back up. In those dark times of our lives, whether we see it or not, the path to oblivion is always there. Daniel saw that path and determined that the irrevocable comfort it offered was preferable to the misery and anguish that he must have been experiencing.
Well, he is gone now; passed beyond to the Great Whatever. And those of us that he left behind must scratch our chins and wonder, for whatever time is left to us, about what it was that called to him.
Go with God, Daniel.