On Monday of this week, Emma Bailey, a lovely, funny, talented young woman, until recently one of my students (she graduated in 2005), died in a car accident, just outside of London, England. She was just nine days shy of her 24th birthday. Emma had gone to London to do her M.A. at Central after graduating from Queen's, but she had stayed to pursue professional work --- and, incidentally, to have a good time and to live life to the fullest. That she was successful on a large scale with this latter aspiration, at the very least, was made evident in her blog, The Emm, in which she recounted her daily adventures and thoughts in a hilarious, irreverent way. You can find one of my favourites among her many posts, "Pretty Fly for a White Girl," in which, in her typically self-deprecating manner, she recounts an audition for a hip-hop video, here. Anyone who has met Emma can imagine both how she looked at each moment of this audition, and how hard she laughed about it afterwards. This was one of Emma's great talents: the ability to laugh at herself, and in so doing, to encourage others to laugh at themselves as well. She was as passionate about life as anyone I've known; but I think she felt that it was just too rich to be taken entirely seriously, and was too full of pleasures that could be taken immediately to mope for long over what it had denied her. She would often make self-deprecating remarks about not being a thinker, but the truth is, she had a very active intellect and imagination; what she was not, was a brooder. Instead, Emma showed the rare gift of being able to turn just about every other moment of life into a sort of celebration.
At any rate, naturally I have been thinking about Emma pretty steadily ever since I heard of her death; and I was puzzled when, for no immediately apparent reason today, I suddenly had the theme from Zorba the Greek playing in my head. It's been many years since I've seen the film, although it's been only a few since I read the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, and I know that, at the time that I did (while in Greece), that catchy theme song kept popping into my head. Now, to see any connection whatsoever between the large, white-haired old man who is the title character of the novel, and young, pretty, vivacious Emma seems most unlikely, I admit. But, thinking it over, I realized that there was a connection, at least for me: the way that Zorba teaches the narrator to "seize the day," to enjoy life in the moment, was more or less the same sort of reminder that Emma represented for me. For example, Emma never seemed to let the fear of looking foolish stop her from doing anything. And Zorba says: "Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all ... is not to have one." He also extols, as Emma did (with poutine, with the Oilers --- although she'd clobber me for putting them in this category) the virtues of simple pleasures: "How simple a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple heart." And, of course, as Emma did, he loves to dance. For Zorba, it is the best expression of vitality's defiance of the claims that death and despair make upon our hearts.
So, I suppose, it was my effort to conjure the spirit of Emma Bailey by dwelling on comforting thoughts of the way that she had enjoyed each moment of her life to the fullest, had indeed lived each day as if it would be her last, and the way that these thoughts fought with my sorrow at her loss, that brought to mind Zorba and his dance at the moment that the narrator feels, almost, that he has lost everything. I wish I had a film of Emma herself dancing; but, for me --- for today, at least --- this may be the next best thing.