Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Friends Passing Away

Last month, I turned 65. When you're this old, a lot of people you've known have died, and it only gets worse the longer you live. Every time I get an email from my high school's website stating that another person has passed on, I stop and reflect, especially about people I knew well who are no longer living. Unfortunately, there are quite a few of my high school classmates who are gone. As far as I know, none of my graduating class died in Vietnam, though some of my other classmates did. Cancer seems to be the number one cause of death.

The first person who ever died that I knew was a neighborhood boy named Lamar. He died of Leukemia while we were quite young. I was perhaps eight or nine years old at the time. The next person was a boy named Arthur Hyatt, a classmate of mine in the 9th grade. He was killed riding a motorcycle. His locker was next to mine and he had given me rides on his motorcycle. One time he lost control of it, throwing us both into the middle of the street. Fortunately, there were no cars passing by at the time. The next person was named Billy Priest, a classmate who died in a car wreck the year after we graduated from high school. That one hit pretty hard, because I'd known him since grade school, and it just didn't seem possible. He was one of the smartest people I'd ever known.  It made me realize that there are no special people in the world. We're all susceptible to death.

Many other classmates of mine have died, but the two deaths that seem to give me the greatest pause are a couple of buddies of mine that I went to college with.  I didn't meet Victor Hood or Frank Martin until my senior year in high school. We got to be friends, particularly when we decided to go to college together. We rented a house together during our freshmen year in college, but went our separate ways after that. Victor died perhaps twenty years ago. From what, I don't know. Frank died just within the past few days due to a complication from surgery. I ran into Frank perhaps a year or two after our freshman year in college. He was working in a tobacco shop and said he was very happy doing that. We never met again.

Why am I writing about this? Of what interest is it to you? Perhaps none. But dying is just as real as being born. I've often wondered what difference it has made that I've lived as long as I have. Has my life been any more valuable, have I gained any greater understanding than I had at a younger age. In other words, if I had died at fifteen or twenty or twenty-five, would I have lived just as full a life as I have now? Or would it have been less of a life?

I guess it gets down to quality of life. Is it possible to have a high quality of life and die young, and be just as fulfilled as someone who has lived longer, had more experiences, and died in old age? This is something I struggle with. This is a question I've asked myself many times. I really don't have an answer. But maybe you do. I'd like to hear what you have to say about it.
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