This time of year brings with it a wonderful sense of relief in that the long, cold days of winter are over, and of rebirth as we watch nature take her course through the blossoming yards, parks, fields, and mountains. In wine country, we watch for the bud break, when green shoots begin to show on the dormant vines, and we know that the four to six-month period in which grapes are grown, harvested, and then crafted into liquid sunshine is upon us once again.
It seems the Good Lord designed the four seasons as reminders to keep life in perspective. Life is fragile, and for some it lasts only a few short hours, weeks, months, years, or decades. “Make the most of your days,” creation seems to proclaim during the seasonal turning points, at least to those with ears to hear, and eyes to see.
For me personally, I’ve decided that this day (April 8) it is a good time to think about and pray for my loved ones who died at a young age, and to do so in a special way. I hope this practice will help inspire me to make the most of every day, and every encounter with a loved one.
While during this brief time of personal reflection, I’ll watch and listen to Oscar and five-time Grammy winner Christopher Cross softly and tenderly perform a musical tribute to one of his friends who died suddenly when she was very young. He composed the song, Think of Laura, in her honor. Below is a video of him performing it live preceded by a full introduction to the song that turned out to be his last Top 10 hit.
I chose this song and day intentionally. My niece, Laura, passed away on this day at the young age of 42. A warm, loving, good-natured, yet high-spirited personality who you liked from the word, Hello, she and her husband were in the process of rebuilding their newly purchased farm when she was overcome by the toxic effects of exposure to poison ivy. Tragically, it was in the brush pile they had been burning the previous week. It’s rare that anyone has such a violent reaction like this, but her husband and children are now all too painfully aware of this risk.
Laura is among several family members and friends of mine who died young. In high school, I lost a beloved teacher and coach in a car crash. Around the same time, one of my close friends lost her father when he was crushed by a “pet” bull in his barn. My older brother and former business associate Danny died suddenly after a massive heart attack at age 44 . One of my older sisters, Patty Jean, died of cancer at a “young” age.
Fellow parishioner, Tom Burnett, age 31, was one of the fallen heroes of Flight 93 on 9/11. I still remember the look of shock and devastation on the face of his bride, children, and many others in attendance at the Memorial Mass for him. This week, our faith community is suffering from another shock, that of losing a 17-year-old high school student. One day, she was the much-loved daughter, friend, rugby player, and community darling. The next, she inexplicably died in her sleep.
You might look at the above and be inclined to remark about what a tragic life I’ve led. Not so. I’m sure most of us could make a similar list, at least of well-known people who died young during our lifetime.
As a school boy, I recall how the deaths of our young president, John Kennedy and his brother Bobby, helped me come of age the hard way. In the very real way, with their passing I began to not take life for granted —at least as much. Also during my lifetime, the sudden passing of dozens of “young” celebrities including Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Jim Croce, Elvis Presley, John Denver, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and more recently, Robin Williams, provide me with remedial assistance in keeping myself grounded in reality.
Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, take life for granted. For Christians, we can easily get a sense of complacency simply by reading scripture. After all, it was Jesus Christ who assured us that he came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) With that level of blessed assurance, why shouldn’t we expect to live a good long life, and for our loved ones to do the same?
Of course, scripture and our experiences inform us that given our fallen nature, we humans are subject to injury, illness, and death, at least until the Second Coming. Events like 9/11, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon, and the seemingly non-stop string of natural disasters around the world are all painful reminders. And yet, we can and should take great comfort in knowing that His love and mercy is everlasting, is ours for the asking despite how much of a wreck we made of our lives, and that our destiny is eternal life in heaven. May we all some day merit such eternal bliss, and be reunited with our loved ones.
In the face of tragedy or death, it’s natural for the grieving process to take us to a winter of despair until we’re able to rise above our sorrow and loss, and experience springtime in our lives. This is especially true when we lose someone young, and even more so for parents who suffer the loss of a child. Closure? Anyone who is truly human does not want closure at such a time, no matter the best efforts of well-intended advocates for it. It is rightfully a fervent desire for us to hold fast to the memories; the reasons why we suffer so much. Indeed, while the hole in your heart heals, the scar remains as a constant reminder of our loss. Still, the healing can begin when we decide to remain grounded in the reality that death need not have the final word, and that life is worth living as we await the glorious return of our Savior, and the hoped for day of unity with our loved ones.
In the meantime, on this side of the Pearly Gates, there’s a lot of living to do. For our part, my bride and I are trying hard to do our share, however imperfectly. Around our place, occasional cynical fits of mine aside, hope does spring eternal, and during springtime at our place the season visually and symbolically underscores this in living color.
The Good Lord willing, we’ll be around to share many more laughs, and a few tears, with the people we hold dear. In fact, I’m under a marriage contract that requires me to live to at least to 106 so that we can celebrate our 75th anniversary! Should our time come sooner than later, let it not be said that we didn’t try each and every day to live life to the fullest, and in accordance with the faith. But if you happen to catch us at a weak moment, you’re welcome to remind us of just how quickly the seasons change.
Special Note: For those of you who aren’t familiar with Christopher Cross, you’re probably younger than me. Christopher, who is three years my senior, had his best years, commercially, in the 1980’s. He is still recording and touring, but his voice is showing its age, which, for a tenor, is understandable. Still, if you want to listen to the original recording of this song, then watch the second video. However, while the second one shows his voice is in better form, it does not include his introduction.