I’d say I met an inordinate amount of people when I was growing up, from going to school in a tight-knit community and working at summer camp for seven (yes, count them, seven) summers.
I’m not sure if the amount of tragedy you witness is directly in correlation to how many people you know, but sometimes I wonder.
I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, which if you attend any of the schools and interact with people from other schools, everyone knows everyone, or at least that’s how it seems. You meet a lot of people your age. And when something bad happens, you hear about it almost immediately.
The first time this happened, I was seventeen years old. I was at a dress rehearsal for a band concert when I noticed I had several missed calls from one of my friends. We had spent a lot of time hanging out together with her family and our mutual friend Seth the previous summer. They both lived in Rocklin at the time, and he had come to my church a few months before.
When she answered the phone, she was in tears. Her voice was cracking, and she said, “Sam, Seth was in a motorcycle accident…and he died.”
I felt like the whole world stopped. I had never had a friend of mine pass away. We weren’t best friends, but close enough to make the shock of it hit me like a freight train. I don’t remember what I said, don’t really remember a lot of the rest of that weekend or so. I spent a lot of time in my bed crying and with my mind blank, and trying to find the news articles about what happened. By the time I went to his memorial, I felt completely numb, and couldn’t process how someone could be there one day and gone the next. Especially someone I’d hung out with, laughed until we cried, the three of us sitting out on the bridge at summer camp watching the meteor shower. I felt guilty and even more upset because it had been months since I’d talked to him last, and he was gone, just like that, at nineteen.
There’s been many others since that have been around my age and passed away far before old age should have taken them. There were four young men that were killed in a car accident that were from my college, and I pass their memorial crosses every single day. There was a young professor that passed away from pancreatic cancer. There was a classmate’s brother that passed away in his sleep during college. A girl I knew from high school died of a disease she had since she was young.
Just a few days ago, a young woman who I knew from summer camp died in her sleep. I really didn’t know her very well: we didn’t spend time with the same people, or work the same type of job at camp. She was always friendly and nice to me, and had a sharp sense of humor. Hearing of her passing was shocking and like a punch to the gut. Knowing anyone who should have lived a much longer life makes you reevaluate a lot of things in your own.
Recently, I read the book The Lovely Bones. If you haven’t read it, it’s about a girl who is murdered, and goes to her own personal heaven. She is able to watch her family as they struggle through the grief and horror of losing her. After reading that book, for some reason death became a lot more real. I felt so much more mortal than I have ever felt in my lifetime. Then the recent news made me think even more about mortality, and about living life to the fullest, and about keeping your loved ones close and making sure they know how much you care, because you really, honestly never know how long they will be around. We should never take life for granted.
It’s said that people my age think that they’re invincible, everyone in their twenties has always felt that way. It’s odd to be in my mid-twenties and appreciating life for the fact that it can be taken away so suddenly. It can inject fear and anxiety, but it can also inject a sense of adventure and curiosity, and a need to love to the limits and fill every corner of your heart with the things that make life great.
We shouldn’t take life for granted.