Death is visiting, bringing reminders not to miss a moment.
My grandson, Sam, 14, lives in upstate New York. Like countless other adolescent lacrosse players in his part of the world, he dreams of the day his blood turns orange as he takes the field for Syracuse. This past week, at a local indoor sports complex, Sam was waiting for a game to wrap up so his team’s contest could begin. A boy on one of the teams playing in that preceding game, a boy from a neighboring town whom Sam had competed against any number of times, was struck by the lacrosse ball on the chest in the perfect spot at the perfect moment in the heart’s rhythm to cause his heart to stop. It is a rare, freakish event with the medical name of “commotio cordis.” As almost always happens, apparently, resuscitation was unsuccessful.
A kid I barely knew in high school was killed in a car crash more than 60 years ago. His death has been among my teachers since. I’m grateful Sam will have such a teacher. His name is Tyler.
Is there a sane parent anywhere who, hearing of Tyler’s death, doesn’t experience more intensely the sacredness of their child’s (or grandchild’s) existence?
And then there is the story of Tyler’s folks, who immediately reached out to the boy on the opposing team whose errant pass struck their son. Their message: this was an accident; please don’t blame yourself; please don’t let this stop you from playing the game you love…and Tyler loved.
A few days later singer Whitney Houston died. She was 48, a year younger than my eldest son. I mention this because, like Ms. Houston, my boy has had a long-standing relationship with addiction which, as we speak, is leading him speedily, I pray, to the despair that asks for help––rather than to death or worse. Twenty-three years ago right now I was a few days away from asking for that help myself. I knew as well as I knew anything that, without it, I was going to die horribly.
As I write this, Sweet, our eight year-old golden retriever everyone says has the perfect name, may be leaving us soon, embracing cancer with the same grace she has brought to every day of her life with us. We met sometime during her first eight weeks of life when I sat in the litter pen with her and her siblings and she allowed me to cradle her on her back, paws in the air, a rare sign of trust for a pup, I was told. That’s been the essence of our relationship since.
On the radio yesterday I heard a story of a man recounting the wisdom he’d acquired through his beautiful marriage of more than 50 years. I may not have the words exactly right, but basically he said, “The best thing I ever did for my children was love their mother.”
Imagine the journey of courage that leads one to leave this life holding that awareness.