We were planning to all head out to the track this weekend, me my wife and my son. Another weekend of motocross; out camping and visiting with our part time neighbors. The phone rang mid week. My wife answered. It was her child hood friend. She had married my wife’s cousin and like us, their three children are pretty much grown. She had some bad news. Her grandmother had passed away. Ninety seven years old. I remember seeing her in recent years. Bright eyed, clear headed and well spoken and yet when at ninety seven someone dies we just accept it. In fact when someone makes it into their nineties we tend to say things like “she had a heckuva run”. No disrespect intended, rather simply a factual statement of how we feel. A long life, well lived is a heckuva run. We accept this passing as a natural step. We don’t feel the same though when the young are taken.
My son and I got to the track and unloaded the trailer. We were talking to our friends who were wondering where my wife was and if she was coming. “She had a funeral to go to.” A few words were exchanged about who, how old, etc. and on to other topics. It was a beautiful spring day, fresh crisp air and warm sunshine. The hustle of morning preparations in the “pits” as everyone worked to prepare their machines for the day’s riding. We hadn’t been there long when we heard the news. It was about one of the riders we regularly see at the track. Three of his high school friends had been in a crash that very morning. One was killed and another was in critical condition after a life flight. More word as the day passed. The second boy didn’t make it. He was the rider’s cousin. It was prom night for their small school. A class of eighty students, now seventy eight. One of the young riders friends balked at the news; “No way, you’ve got to be kidding” we just can’t take it in when the young leave us, suddenly or not.
Now of course when I was that age, I was just as incredulous. After all, we were the new young generation, indestructible, immortal. At the end of a long hot day, late in my senior year of high school I plopped into my seat at my last period class. Red faced and drenched in sweat. No air conditioning and I had just left gym class at the far end of the building. A good number of us had just come from gym, disheveled and half dressed with shirt tails out, hair still wet and uncombed. Mr. Desenfants sat on the front edge of his desk, lessons open behind him. The bell rang and the last few students took their seats. He looked across the room, smiled, shook his head and turned to close up his lesson book. “I don’t think we’re going to get much learning done today” he said. What followed was a rare experience. A full period of wide ranging conversation from how wonder bread is viewed in Europe as “air that has been taught to stand up” to the meaning and value and tenuous nature of life. He got us on that last one. “Do you all realize” he asked “that it is likely that one or more of your graduating class will not make it to the end of the year?" Silence, gasps, wide eyes. What was he talking about? C’mon, we are the new generation, invincible, immortal. A very interesting and sobering class period. He was right. Painfully right. I don’t recall the exact number any more, seven I think, did not make it to graduation. One was a friend of mine. By her own hand. Suicide. I could not grasp it. Dead, gone. Forever. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those folks who can’t handle funerals. My grandmother was one of thirteen children. I was fine with funerals. Friends, classmates, different story altogether. Losing a friend, someone so close, so young. Beyond comprehension. I think of that day with Mr. Desenfants often. Pretty much whenever someone young leaves us.
My son and I spoke about it on our way home. How tough it was going to be for those kids, that entire school. Prom night. Two of their class. Tough stuff. A real eye opener for my son. For me as for all of us, that profound sadness when we see a life cut short. These moments always make me think of my children. How I want to continue to protect them from the world. An unrealistic goal for sure; to live life it has to be well, lived. There was a commercial on the news tonight. I don’t even remember what the pitch was for, but it showed a hockey player getting a phone call on the bench. At “MOM’s” request, he sang “itsy bitsy spider” for his little girl. His friends laughed as he turned and saw them in embarrassment. But did he really care? Of course not. One thing we do know about this life is that friends and family are what make it worth living. Our children are number one, what really drives us. Feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads and in my case, play them Brahm’s Lullably on the piano as they fell asleep. I know that as with all of us, my children too will leave this life one day, I can only hope and pray that it is after “a heckuva run” for each of them.