Someone died today in your town, your state or your country and their passing will either be noted or a momentary blip in the usual routine. They will be mourned in traditional or unusual ceremonies intended to help those left behind to deal with this hole in their whole and then we will continue. But lots of someones will be leaving us today and tomorrow and the next day in a never ending line of departures painful or incidental.
This week we were reminded of just how tenuous life can be and how unexpected any departure can be despite fame or fortune or any other characteristic that sets them apart. Bob Simon, a world renowned journalist with 27 Emmys and several Peabody Awards to his credit, stepped into a Lincoln Town Car for a short ride downtown to a medical seminar in New York City. It was to be a ride down Manhattan’s West Side where the overhead highway was torn down and turned into a six-lane strip with a pedestrian safety island in the center. Who would have thought that the very safety designed for those afoot would be the true danger here?
Who would have thought that a car called up to carry this truly gifted and rightfully famous man would be driven by anyone but the most skilled? How can anyone know who is at the wheel of any limo or cab or plane or train? No one can.
Yesterday, another man, who had not only fought and won a battle over crack cocaine but rose to preeminence at “the newspaper of record” (or is that the Washington Post?) for much of the United States and the world, would go to his office and drop dead there. No warning, no hospitalization. He was David Carr and he covered media and film and all the stuff we have come to love and rely on in our modern world. He was a leader in that area.
Just as Bob Simon, David Carr fully expected to go home last night and be with his family but it didn’t turn out that way. Both departures were totally unexpected and sudden. Some might say these were incredibly distressing losses, others that it was almost a special blessing not to have suffered through illness, surgeries and repeated hospitalizations. You decide which it was, if it was either.
How tenuous life is can be illustrated by these two losses but their lives are no more precious than those that will be lost to others all over the world. The three Muslim students in North Carolina who were executed in their home by a neighbor represent a great loss. The men and women and children who will die because of bombings in the Middle East, the Ukraine or poisoned wells in our own country are all losses for every one of us. But we can’t mourn all of them because in so doing we would burden ourselves with something no human being can endure.
The losses will be handled in a way that we can manage. We will mourn those we know and understand that others will do the same for their losses. In our elaborate or simple traditions we will seek some measure of comfort and then we will return to our daily routines to live out another day.
Tradition does have a way of helping us pull together the threads of our lives when one of those threads is torn. It has the potential to provide rote when it is needed to replace everything else and that can give momentary comfort. It is the aftermath that requires a measure of grit and we can find that, too, in recalling the moments of joy we had before when all was going smoothly in our world.
Remember the losses, but savor the moments before because they last forever.