It has been a lachrymose few days for me. And while I’m rarely teary-eyed for long, sometimes my thinking brain gets trampled unexpectedly by my feeling heart and leaves me a bit off kilter. Life’s challenges can explode like forgotten landmines lying in wait, and recently I’ve been privy to more bad news than good. The shock of the unexpected and the gravity of life’s free fall moments got the best of me last week. I’ve been clawing my way from my heart back to my head for days hoping to gain some traction in the present.
Late last week, I learned via Facebook that a former high school classmate of mine died. It’s not easy when anyone dies. It’s more difficult when the person who passed is your age because, well….Hello, Mortality. Beyond that, I hate learning about death through social media. It’s such an unwelcome, impersonal shock filled with unanswerable questions. I can’t say that I knew this person well. He was among the best students in our class, so I was on the outskirts of his life in AP Physics and Calculus. He was someone I knew from the hallways, the yearbook pages, and the sharing of mutual friends. As the news of his passing spread across my Facebook friends’ news feeds and the online memorial tributes to him increased in number, I grieved along with my friends through some sort of osmotic process. The few interactions that John and I shared happened in the more recent past. I knew more about him through Facebook than I knew of him in the real world, so I suppose it was fitting that I learned about his moving on through the same channel. I can’t say that I had an impact on his life in any way, but I know that his life touched mine in the kind of way that makes you realize that we citizens of Earth have more in common than we think we do based on what we see on the outside.
Today as I was driving home after dropping the boys off at school, still absorbed by life’s absurdities and ill-timed departures, I was following a snow-covered van. We traveled along at 55 miles per hour and the snow from the van’s roof blew off in swirls. As the individual flakes whizzed toward my car, it appeared I was making the leap to hyperspace. In the early morning sunlight, each flake was a tiny fleck of gold or silver. I got caught up in the beauty of this pure and simple occurrence. It made me deeply and honestly happy. I felt better than I have in days. It wasn’t a winning lottery ticket that brought me out of my funk. It was a moment of gratitude for life brought about by a random act of beauty I was finally present enough to appreciate.
I can’t stop thinking now about how wrong we humans are about our journey on this planet. We make life into what appears on the outside. We obsess with how we look rather than focusing on who we are personally and what truly matters to us. We stress about where our kids go to school more than we worry about our relationships with them. We want the respect of others, and we think we will earn it with important job titles, tastefully decorated homes, and luxury cars. We are cats jumping at shiny things. We are clueless.
This quote has been bouncing around in my head for weeks. I’ve been wanting to say something about it, and several times I’ve sat down with my laptop to try to coax the words out of my mind. They wouldn’t come. Then our class lost John and it came into focus. All the epitaphs, composed for a friend who left us too soon, collected the whole of John’s heart and put it on display for all of us who regret that we did not know him better. Short though his life was, it was a life lived right.
We who are still here are lucky enough to have this moment. Don’t squander it. Look around you. Be grateful for what you have. Pay attention to those who matter. Don’t bother chasing the shiny distractions. Time is precious. Someday someone will be painting a verbal picture of you posthumously. Make sure you show them your best side now.