Not quite a year ago, one of my closest friends lost his wife. She lost her battle with mental illness and, for unfathomable reasons, took her own life. She left behind a devoted husband and two precious teenage sons. She also left a hole in the hearts of all who knew her. No one expects to lose their wife, the mother, their daughter, their sister, their friend, in her early forties. But here’s the thing. Life is fragile. We go about our days as if the next 10,000 or 20,000 days are guaranteed; as if we have all the time in the world and we’re in complete control.
This morning we lost another friend from our church in Houston. He and I were in the Aggie Band together (100 years ago). Our families were close, especially our wives. A year and half ago, maybe two, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which is the same cancer that took my maternal grandmother so, so quickly. This friend was different though. He was strong and determined. His rallying cry was “fuck cancer,” a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. And so, he fought and fought and seemed to be winning. His teenaged boys got more time with their father than maybe should have been expected. His wife got to be with her husband just a little longer. The doctors became encouraged as the treatments seemed to be working, the tumors smaller and less numerous. But as I said before, life is fragile. A week or so ago, it all changed. He started experiencing migraine headaches and vomiting. The cancer which seemed to be under control had spread to his brain and spinal column. This morning he passed away, leaving those young men, those young boys, without a father. Leaving his loving wife without a husband. It’s all so fucking fragile.
These events are gut wrenchingly sad. Tragic, even. But that’s not why I’m writing about them.
Yesterday I took my own son, just 10 years old, to see a live performance of STOMP. I played percussion growing up until I was in college and these days continue to rip out rhythms, to music out loud and that in my head, on my steering wheel, my desk, or any surface my fingers contact. This show is right up my alley. At the beginning of the performance I kept glancing over at my boy. Was he getting it? Was he having the time I was? He’s a budding musician of several stripes but yes, there was something about that show that resonated with him too, even if the “music” was a little unorthodox. So, I relaxed and, rather than worrying about his enjoyment of the show, permitted myself to soak it all in. To feel the beat of the music in my chest, in my feet, in my soul. And then suddenly, my eyes welled with tears, but tears of joy. Yes, this life we live is fragile but there is so much joy to be had if we take a moment to appreciate it. At that moment, in the Tobin Center, I connected on some level with the performers who played their form of music for the absolute hell of it. Yes, they’re all paid performers but I can tell you from experience, when you start taking cash to do something you love you’re in danger of losing it quickly. There was an energy in that concert hall though, that was just joy. Their art and my art connected and in that moment I experienced a little of what I hope heaven is like.
A few weeks ago my oldest daughter, now 18 years old, and I attended a Jocko Live event in Austin, TX. Jocko Willink is a former Navy SEAL and now best-selling author, podcast host, and entrepreneur. The show was somewhat predictable for those who, like myself, actively follow Jocko’s work, but it was deeply moving. Jocko led SEALs in the Battle of Ramadi and speaks and teaches openly about the leadership lessons learned in combat, many of them paid for with the blood of brave Americans, a small handful of which were under his command. The mood much of the evening was serious and somber, with Jocko becoming visibly choked up several times. At one point, Jocko recounted a story of the Japanese Kamikaze in the Pacific Theater in WWII, and their mantra that they “had come to die.” We, Jocko admonished the hushed crowd, did not come to die. We came to live.
And there in lies the point of this whole essay. This life we live is a precious gift, but it’s fragile and none of us knows when it will end. My admonishment to you and to me is go live the damn thing. Make your art. Write your book. Call your mom. Start that business. Run that race. Hug your dad. Fight the war. Don’t take a minute for granted. I have people close to me that are wasting their youth, wasting their health, wasting their intelligence. I too, spend many days focused on things that don’t matter. Don’t be those people. Don’t let your last day sneak up on you with regret in your heart that you wasted the gift.
This earthly life is fragile. Go live it to its fullest. Make our God, your friends, and your family proud.
Get after it.
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One thought on “On the Fragility of Life”
A moving essay, Matt! Gives us all something to think about. I coach soccer at a small branch of the University of South Carolina. Four softball players at a sister USC branch were riding back to their campus over the weekend and were struck head-on by a drunk driver. Two died and two others are still in intensive care. So tragic to lose anyone but especially young people who have their whole lives ahead of them. Those who remain must carry on and your message should resonate with them. William A. Glass