On December 27, 2017, I sent Alicia the final manuscript of Harmonic Astrology in Practice, at the same time that I sent it to the publisher. But at this point Alicia (who before Christmas had been emailing me several times a week) suddenly became silent. She did not respond to receiving the manuscript, nor did she respond in mid-January when I sent her a book in gratitude for how she had helped me. I did not hear from her during the whole of January 2018.
Her mother, Barbara, tells me that during this period Alicia was very withdrawn and uncommunicative, and seemed to be in a state of profound depression. She was very worried about her finances: she had applied for a number of jobs, but had not received any job offers. Also she was worried about her increasing deafness. And also (although Barbara did not say this, as Alicia did not talk about it) I feel it is possible that she was depressed because her role as my Muse, into which she had put so much energy, had come to an end. What should her focus be now?
It is a great sorrow to me that Alicia did not feel able to unburden herself to me at that time. If she had done so, then maybe – just maybe – I could have saved her. I think that perhaps she had not fully grasped that I loved her unconditionally. She felt that, for me to continue to love her, she had to continue to present herself as this “amazing” person. Now she did not feel herself to be amazing. She felt weak, helpless, inadequate. She felt herself to be unworthy of my love (or of anyone else’s love). She withdrew into herself.
On February 7 I sent her an email asking her how she was, and on February 8 she replied, saying “No need to worry. I am preoccupied with my life at the moment, and will get in touch with you as soon as I can”.
On February 11 she went, as usual, to the monthly meeting of the Astrological Society of Princeton, of which she was the Membership Chairperson. But she was unusually quiet at the meeting, and she left immediately after the meeting, instead of going on to a café with other Society members as she had normally done.
On February 13 she went out again in her car. We do not know where she went on this occasion, but at 5.54 p.m. she was returning home. It was shortly after sunset, a time of notoriously poor visibility. She had been having trouble with the exhaust of her car. It seems likely that there was a sudden noise from the exhaust, which caused Alicia to pull over to the side of the road and get out of the car to investigate. As she stepped out onto the carriageway, she was hit from behind by a speeding car. Her body was propelled some distance along the road. She died instantly.
I feel that I cannot do better than adapt Shakespeare’s words, spoken by Horatio on the death of Hamlet:
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, Alicia,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
* * * * *
The driver of the car was not prosecuted, as the police maintained that Alicia had unintentionally caused her own death by stepping out onto the carriageway. The light was poor, and Alicia was hard of hearing. Also her depressed state of mind may have been a factor, dulling her thoughts and feelings and making her less alert than she would normally have been. (But it is also true that the car driver, if he had not been travelling so fast, might have been able to stop or swerve in time.)
Barbara later asked me whether I thought that Alicia might have had a premonition of her own passing. I told her that I could not find any astrological factor that might have caused Alicia to predict her death. However, I believe it is possible that she may have had some kind of psychic awareness that she was about to die.
One week after her passing, a letter arrived offering Alicia a job which would have suited her very well. If she had been able to accept this job, her financial problems would have been solved.
In death, Alicia (or, at least, her body) was taken over by the Catholic Church, from which she had departed so long ago. She was given a Catholic funeral on February 19, and was buried in a Catholic cemetery. Her astrological friends were not able to attend the funeral, as they did not hear about Alicia’s passing until later.
As for me, it was more than a month before I learnt of her death. I did not try to contact her, as she had said that she would contact me when she was ready. But on March 16th I typed her name into Google, and was horrified to read an account of her funeral.
For a long time it was difficult for me to cope with Alicia’s death. In June 2018 I gave a talk at the astrological conference which Alicia had hoped to attend, and I felt Alicia’s spirit guiding me through this talk. In February 2019 the book which Alicia had helped me to write was finally published. And then, in April 2019, I visited New Jersey and ran a workshop on harmonics for the Astrological Society of Princeton NJ, and during this trip I met Alicia’s parents and her brother, I visited Alicia’s grave, and I also visited the house where Alicia had been brought up and where her parents are still living. Also I met several other people who had known Alicia, all of whom were very kind to me.
Since then, a number of opportunities have opened up for me. I have branched out in new directions, written articles and spoken at conferences. I am full of enthusiasm for life. I am no longer an “old man waiting for death”. None of this would have been possible if I had not known Alicia.
Thus, my life has opened up as a result of the book that Alicia helped me to write and the confidence and self-belief which she had instilled in me; and yet, when I thought of her, I felt overwhelmed by grief and sorrow. But on August 10, 2019, I had a dream which seemed to resolve things for me. In the dream I met Alicia face to face for the first and last time. We were able to hug each other, express our love for each other, and say farewell, with both of us knowing that she was about to die. As a result of this dream I now feel able to think about Alicia more coolly and objectively, without being consumed by grief, and so I have been able to set about writing this book.
And yet I still grieve for her.
In the year 2018, 566 people were killed in 527 separate road accidents in the state of New Jersey. These accidents are recorded on the website of the New Jersey State Police 1, where Alicia’s death is recorded as follows under the heading “Burlington County”:
Municipality: Burlington Twsp
Locality: Interstate 295 N MP 47.8
But of course New Jersey is only one state in only one country. If we look at the situation worldwide, a report by the World Health Organization has revealed that road traffic accidents have become the eighth leading cause of death worldwide, overtaking malaria and HIV, and killing 1.35 million people per year. (And, year by year, this figure keeps growing.) For people aged between 5 and 40, road accidents are the most frequent cause of death. The figure for road fatalities per year per 100,000 population is highest in Liberia (35.9) and lowest in Norway and Switzerland (2.7). The figure for the United States (12.4) is higher than that for any European country except Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia, Russia and Ukraine, and is more than twice as high as the figure (5.8) for neighbouring Canada 2. The U.S. is famous for its high level of gun crime, and yet (if we exclude gun suicides) more than twice as many people are killed in the U.S. by cars than by guns.
And it is all so pointless. However much one may disapprove of war, people who die in wars do so in pursuit of some political or military objective, and so are regarded as heroes. But people who die in road accidents die for no reason at all.
1.35 million deaths per year. Each one of these represents the brutal, tragic, untimely and pointless extinction of a unique and precious individual life. Very many of these people will (like Alicia) have died instantly: they were suddenly catapulted into the next world, with no opportunity to review their lives, to put their affairs in order, to write their wills, or to say farewell to their loved ones. Very many others will have died a slow and agonizingly painful death, with doctors fighting unsuccessfully to save them, but succumbing eventually to the severity of their injuries.
How did it come to this? We have always known that the motor car was a lethal weapon. In the U.K., the earliest motor cars were required to be accompanied by a “flagman”, who would walk in front waving a red flag. On August 17, 1896, after the “flagman” requirement was abolished and after the maximum permitted speed was increased to 14 mph, Bridget Driscoll became the first person in the world to be killed by a car. She was a 44-year-old mother who had come to London with her teenage daughter to watch a dancing display. She walked in front of a car which suddenly accelerated and hit her. There was a 6-hour inquest with a jury, which returned a verdict of “accidental death”. The coroner said, “This must never happen again”. But no prosecution was brought against the driver of the car. 3
For some reason, killing with a car has never been treated seriously as a crime. “Causing death by dangerous driving” is seen as a lesser crime (and is less severely punished) than manslaughter, even though manslaughter (“unlawful homicide without malice aforethought”) is what it manifestly is. There is very little attempt to cause the motorist to fear the consequences of driving recklessly.
Perhaps the most famous person who has ever died in this way is Princess Diana. Diana changed the world by her life, and changed it again by her death; and yet even she has not been able to make people more aware of the dangers of driving. Since her death, the incidence of death on the roads has continued to rise relentlessly.
Melissa Harrison has written a novel, At Hawthorn Time, in which she describes the lives, and the inner thoughts, feelings, and plans for the future, of three characters who live near to one another but do not know one another. At the end of the book, these three people are brought together in a car crash in which one of them dies and the other two are severely injured. We are left not knowing which of them has died, but with an overwhelming sense of how (in Harrison’s words) “a hideous new reality can yaw out from the everyday without warning, swallowing the future whole”.
I have written this book as a tribute to Alicia, whose future was indeed swallowed whole. But I would like it also to be seen as a tribute to all those nameless others who have died in the same way, and whose deaths were equally tragic.
Let us remember them, just as we remember those who died in war. It would be good if August 17th (the day that Bridget Driscoll died) could be named Road Remembrance Day, and marked with a two-minute silence in honour of the people who have died on the roads.
As I write these words, the world’s attention is on the coronavirus pandemic. Coronavirus has killed about 1.45 million people worldwide during 2020, which is almost the same as the number killed every year on the roads. So the carnage on the roads is a pandemic of equal seriousness, and it is one which goes on and on from year to year, with no possibility of a vaccine. And it is entirely man-made. It does not come from bats, it comes from us. It is entirely due to our own reckless behaviour. We do not need a vaccine; we do not need to self-isolate; we just need to drive more carefully. Ideally, we would all drive so slowly that, if someone were to step out into the road in front of us (as Alicia did), we would be able to stop. Ideally, our cars would be built so that any speed higher than this would be impossible. Would this be so terrible? Would it be worse than the social distancing and the travel restrictions that are imposed by coronavirus?
So let us do whatever we can to minimize this senseless slaughter. Let us drive our cars carefully and mindfully, placing our respect for human (and animal) life ahead of our desire to get from A to B as fast as possible. Let us teach our children about the dangers of driving. Let us campaign for the tightening and enforcement of speed limits, for the elimination of “accident blackspots”, and for tougher penalties for dangerous driving. Above all, let us always remember that life is a wonderful, precious and fragile thing, and that each person deserves to live their life to the full until they meet their natural end.
It seems to me that Alicia and I could never have found true peace with each other. We were two troubled souls in a troubled world, and our troubles would have continued if we had been together. But I believe that we could have enabled each other to deal with our troubles more bravely, more inventively, more successfully, and with a greater belief in our own worth and our own beauty. We shone a light on each other, and it was a benevolent and kindly light. I will conclude with a poem which I wrote on December 11, 2016, when I had known Alicia for only three months. Its original title was “On Not Hearing from Alicia”, as it was a response to not having heard from her for a few days. When I wrote the poem, I had no idea what the “white light that appeared behind the mountains” was: it simply inserted itself into the poem for no apparent reason. But, now that Alicia has passed, I feel that, in a strange way, the “white light” was Alicia herself, who flashed so briefly and so brilliantly across my sky.
And still the world keeps turning
Turning for you, Alicia,
And turning for me.
It turns, and knows no rest.
The white light appears behind the mountains
And streaks across the sky.
You and I, my beloved,
Two little specks of awareness,
Are held in the turning of the world.
Between us the ocean surges
And ships are caught in the storm.
Tell me how it turns for you, Alicia,
Tell me if there is pain for you or pleasure
In the turning of the world.
Good night, Alicia. You have travelled far enough. You are no longer caught in the turning of the world. May you now rest in peace, and in the knowledge of your own beauty. And I shall always love you.