If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one… For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and see God unencumbered?… Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (1923)

It seems like yesterday that I watched the Grammy Award-winning and best-selling female trio of all time, TLC (Rozanda “Chili” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes), draped in oversized jeans and T-shirts, uninhibited in their sexuality and belting out the infectious party anthem “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg.” Their spirits were young and fresh. But it was the animated Left Eye, the rapstress of the group, with her industrial-sized apple-jack hat and a pink condom plastered over her left eye like a pirate’s patch, that had me hysterical. That’s why when I learned of her untimely death at 6 a.m. — before my morning jog, the day after another Manhattan office building exploded, eight months to the day that we lost Aaliyah, and seven months after the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks — it left me paralyzed and speechless. The music world has lost yet another one of its most beloved young stars.

Left Eye, 30, was vacationing in Honduras, when the Montero SUV she was driving tipped over and she was killed. Seven other passengers were hurt and hospitalized in La Ceiba, including her brother, sister, two producers, a three-member group called Egypt. Left Eye’s body will be returned to Atlanta today.

The Philadelphia native was a “vivrant thang,” and her kinetic energy was always felt during TLC’s performances. As one third of the TLC nucleus, Left Eye’s zany antics and syncopated stream-of-consciousness lyrical flow served as the perfect complement to Chili’s satin vocals and T-Boz’s rock ‘n’ roll sensibility. As a group, TLC was the fiercest representation of independent women — three distinctive personalities that were able to coexist — for a while anyway. When tension began to swell among the ladies, Left Eye took some space and pursued independent musical endeavors, spitting rhymes on a host of artists’ albums including crooner Donell Jones’s 1999 “You Know What’s Up” and Lil Kim’s 1997 “Ladies Night (Not Tonight Remix).”

Her musical cohorts were equally saddened. “Lisa definitely had a superstar quality and will definitely be missed. She had so much energy and demanded respect when she walked into a room — everyone always noticed her,” says Donell en route to a radio interview in Detroit, Mich. “My prayers go out to her family and friends. I miss you baby girl.” Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones adds: “I am extremely shocked to hear of the tragic accident that took the beautiful Left Eye from us all. Lisa and I worked together in the past and had plans of working together in the future. She is a musical genius that will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace.”

To her critics and fans alike, Left Eye was considered public enemy No. 1 because of her mercurial personality. She carried on a literally combustible relationship with NFL star Andre Rison, her fiancé. She publicly antagonized her fellow group members, once challenging Chili and T-Boz to test their musical genius against her own by seeing who sold the most solo albums. And, most recently, she partnered with hip hop’s most notorious bad boy Suge Knight — joining his reincarnated music label, Tha Row.

Still, I secretly admired her mama-don’t-take-no-mess approach to life. Yes, she “wild out” and burned down her man’s house. While I don’t condone such retaliation, I understand it. As a battered woman, Left Eye took matters into her own hands — indirectly empowering abused women and giving them the courage and voice to condemn their abusers.

She was also an entrepreneur, discovering R&B diamonds-in-the-rough, Blaque. But the magic that TLC shared could not be vanquished. The sisters were busy recording songs for their fourth effort scheduled to drop this summer. Left Eye was also set to drop her solo effort under her newly adopted moniker NINA (New Identity Non-Applicable).

Undoubtedly, Left Eye’s life was uncensored. She didn’t bother to masquerade in this otherwise fickle and pretentious music biz and she always kept it “gangsta” — wearing her emotions on her sleeve on and off stage. Her fearless spirit will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. As an avid fan, I know that she is still singing and dancing