There's a song out this summer by The Band Perry that is country, but has crossed over to some pop stations. Its haunting tune and lyrics refer to young death, and how while abbreviated lives are sad, their victims' words and actions get more attention and concentration than they normally would.
Although this is obviously a truly morbid topic, it's spot on with how things work.
"A penny for my thoughts?
Oh no, I'll sell 'em for a dollar
They're worth so much more
After I'm a goner...
The sharp knife of a short life
I've had just enough time...
What I never did is done..."
I wish it wasn't true, but I'm guessing most of us are all too familiar with the sharp knife of a short life.
My first experience with it was in high school, when one of our star sports players was tragically killed. What the papers saw as a significant gap in the next year's football and baseball season for d'Iberville High, we knew as the tragic loss of a friendly, easygoing guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, as the lyrics above paint, our mental pictures of him were accented with his kindness and good intentions, and punctuated with his favorite sayings.
Years later, a second cousin my immediate family was very close to died from leukemia. A young teenager with disabilities, he'd warmed many hearts with his sweet smile and hilarious nature, and left a gaping hole for many of us.
Last year, the typical jovial nature of a close-knit group of friends where I used to live was rattled in a big way when we learned one of our closest friends had been keeping a secret: that he was dying of cancer. Some learned the answer just months before; I got to visit him literally just in time -- holding his all too thin hand and seeing his trademark huge grin on a cancer-eaten skeletal face the night before his body had enough. From the sweet wife, daughters and stepson he left behind to the memories none of us were ready to stop making, he left his indelible mark on many lives by living like it could be his last day, mainly because he knew for so long that it could.
Most recently, the death of someone I've never met was more front-and-center for my family than that sort of thing typically would be. A cousin I'm very close to was with one of his best friends when he died. Although he was doing what he loved, this guy was in his 30s at his time of death, which makes anyone grimace. A decorated war hero, Navy SEAL and Marine, this guy had many stories of a life well-lived, which immediately surfaced after his death. A couple of vivid points stand out: 1. "Live free or die trying." - a motto he clearly lived by; and 2. The importance of living, not just merely existing. This was Facebook statused by another cousin after the tragedy, and has stuck with me.
The sharp knife of a short life.
It's harsh, it's messy, and it's never easy. Ever.
But it's always, without fail, an invisible and influential teacher.
Lesson #1: Don't just exist. Live.