Finding meaning in tragedy

Memory is kinetic. Experience crossed with place and a memory — hitched to a name — binds itself. And it lives.

At the Northwest Children’s School in Smokey Point, a renovated playground was dedicated to the memory of Hunter and Wyatt Ruthven, brothers ages 6 and 4, respectively. They died in the March 22 Oso mudslide, along with their parents and two of their grandparents.

As The Herald’s Scott North reports, this is where the brothers attended preschool. They clomped around, they played on the sidewall of a giant truck tire, they made friends.

Children who never knew the Ruthven boys will recall the playground and equate it with joy. The boys’ grandmother, Karen Pszonka, said, “Seeing all these kids playing, it is like, ‘Wow!’”

Memory is the present moment.

Karen and her husband, Tom, a retired Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant, embraced the idea of a memorial playground. Donations flowed, with $12,943 in costs underwritten by the United Way of Snohomish County’s Oso slide relief fund.

As North writes, United Way also set aside $5,000 for a University of Washington scholarship in memory of the boys’ mother, Katie Ruthven. It will benefit students from Mill Creek and Arlington, where Katie was raised and oversaw a business with her husband, Shane.

Memory sits at the intersection of experience and a name: Scholarship recipients will never meet Katie Ruthven. But they likely will meet Katie’s parents and those who loved her. As they navigate their own paths in school and life, there will be a thread that stitches them to a person who was loved enough to be memorialized by a scholarship, by giving back.

A person isn’t dead while his or her name is still spoken. A speaker expressed this belief at a 2012 memorial event at the Snohomish County Courthouse for Brisenia Flores, a 9-year old Arizona girl who had never set foot in the Pacific Northwest. Flores was murdered along with her dad during a home invasion orchestrated by an Everett woman and two others (whose names bear forgetting), adherents of anti-immigrant terrorism.

Brisenia Flores’ name is still spoken.

“Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level,” Ernest Becker wrote in “The Denial of Death.”

Becker was just partly right. Even the small things, the things that give expression to the interrupted lives of young people, embroider the world with meaning. And life attaches to memory.

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