IN THEIR bodies, Laleh and Ladan Bijani appeared to be one and the same. In their hearts, they yearned for separate lives.
Joined at the backs and sides of their heads, the 29-year-old twin sisters from Iran lived a life of mutual consent, cooperation and compromise. Their conjoined bodies defined their closeness and informed their choice to undergo a risky operation to separate them.
Their hope was singular in its desire - to look each other in the eye.
And so it was Saturday when they entered a Singapore operating room for a first-of-its-kind marathon surgery.
They preferred not to dwell on the risks - a 50-50 chance that one or both would die. They preferred to discuss the future they had imagined since their earliest waking moments.
They inspired and intrigued us.
How now to react to their deaths? Two young women from a society and culture known to few Americans, they survived the complex procedure of separating their brains, millimeter by millimeter, only to succumb to a known risk: uncontrollable bleeding. Their deaths touch us because of the lives they led and the lives they bravely sought.
How now to remember them?
For their spirited individuality: Separated from their family as 4-year-olds and raised under the auspices of the Iranian government, the sisters conquered their conjoinedness. They developed their own interests - computers for Laleh, Quranic study for Ladan - graduated from college, and planned careers in journalism and law, respectively.
For their unflagging determination: When German physicians refused to operate on the twins, the sisters pursued other specialists until they found the Singapore and Baltimore surgeons who agreed to take on their case.
For their belief in the impossible: In a letter days before the surgery, the twins talked of their excitement, their prayers for a successful outcome, and the prospect that "we may begin our new and wonderful lives as two separate persons."
Laleh and Ladan Bijani's journey to Singapore didn't end as so many had hoped. But is there anyone who doesn't believe the sisters are now seeing each other face to face?