The Death of Cynthia Horner

Dr. Cynthia Horner, the daughter of Drs. Bennett and Frances Horner of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, died suddenly in her sleep on the evening of Sunday, April 17, 1994 while flying from Los Angeles to New York City, where we had lived together since June of last year.

She was apparently yanked from this world by a heart arrhythmia, the result of undetected viral cardiomyopathy. While she had suffered a minor flu earlier in the week, she seemed fully recovered. She had danced like a dust devil at a Pink Floyd concert in the Rose Bowl the night before and had gone running on the beach at Santa Monica that morning.

Tuesday the 19th would have been her 30th birthday. Despite her great capacity for good times, she had managed to make herself both a certified psychiatrist and a truly wise woman in that short time. She had hardly been sick a day in her life. She looked more like starlet than a shrink. And she was a classic example of what I've always considered one of God's greatest works, a truly game woman.

The night before, while stuck in traffic with some 90,000 other concert-goers, we had three hours which we used to plot the next couple of years. We would move to San Francisco in September and buy a house. She would set up her new practice there over the winter. We'd get married next spring and start having babies shortly thereafter.

There was no question in either mind, as there had never been since the moment we met last May, that it didn't matter what we did or where we did it as long as we were together. We knew we'd found what most people either pursue in years of futile search or dismiss as a fantasy at the outset: the missing half of ourselves. The real thing.

Parting on the curb at LAX, we enjoyed one of our customarily shameless kisses and she said, "We were made for each other, Baby. Nothing can keep us apart." This was the last thing she would ever say to me.

And then she bounded down the concourse, as apparently full of life as anyone I've ever watched in delight. When the flight attendant tried to wake her on approaching New York, he found her dead. The one thing which could have proven her last words false had happened.

I feel like my heart has been amputated. I feel as Moses might have had he been given a year in the Promised Land before being kicked back out into the desert.

But I'm working on putting it back together. I spoke to the people she'd grown up with on Vancouver Island last Friday before placing her back in its lovely green heart, and this is what I said to them...

For Cynthia Horner 1964-1994
Spoken in the Brechin Church
Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Colombia
Friday, April 22, 1994

I don't know most of you, and I envy the many among you who were graced with Cynthia all her short life. I only knew her a little while. We spent this last glorious year together. It was the best year of my life and, I firmly believe, it was the best year of her life too.

Sunday morning, during our last hour, we were playing with a cat with strangely green eyes.

She looked at me with her own beautiful green eyes and said, "You know, James Joyce said that green eyes were a sign of the supernatural." The way she said it seemed pointed and meaningful. And hope makes me want to believe it all the more meaningful now.

I don't know that I believe in the supernatural, but I do believe in miracles, and our time together was filled with the events of magical unlikelihood. I also believe that angels, or something like them, sometimes live among us, hidden within our fellow human beings. I'm convinced that such an angel dwelled in Cynthia. I felt this presence often in Cynthia's lightness of being, in her decency, her tolerance, her incredible love. I never heard Cynthia speak ill of anyone nor did I ever hear anyone speak ill of her. She gave joy and solace to all who met her.

I feel her angel still, dancing around the spiritual periphery, just beyond the sight of my eyes, narrowed as they are with tears and the glare of ordinary light. Her graceful goodness continues to surround me, if less focused and tangible than before.

With a care both conscious and reverential, Cynthia and I built a love which I believe inspired most who came near it. We felt it was our gift to the world. We wanted to show the hesitant the miracle that comes when two people give their hearts unconditionally, honestly, fearlessly, and without reservation or judgement. We wanted to make our union into a message of hope, and I believe we did, even though we knew that hearts opened so freely can be shattered if something should go wrong. As my heart is shattered now.

So among the waves of tragedy which have crashed on me with her death is a terror that our message of hope has been changed into a dreadful warning. But I must tell you that had I known in the beginning that I would be here today doing this terrible thing, I would still have loved her as unhesitatingly, because true love is worth any price one is asked to pay.

The other message we wished to convey was one of faith in the essential goodness and purpose of life. I have always felt that no matter how inscrutable its ways and means, the universe is working perfectly and working according to a greater plan than we can know.

In the last few days, I have had to battle with the fear that everything is actually just random, that the universe is a howling void of meaningless chaos, indifferent to everything that I value. All hope has at times seemed unjustified to me.

But groundless hope, like unconditional love, is the only kind worth having.

Its true name is faith. As it is a shallow faith which goes untested, so it is that if we can keep our faith through this terrible test, we will emerge with a conviction of enduring strength. And this faith will become Cynthia's greatest gift to us. If we can build with our lives a monument to her light, her gameness, and her love, she will not have died in vain, and her death will become as much a miracle as was her life.

--John Perry Barlow