Sunday, May 17, 2009

Before Their Time

In the hierarchy of human misfortune, nothing comes close to the tragedy of mothers and fathers attending the funerals of their children. As a Christian I understand that death is the beginning of eternal life in the presence of God, but as much as I try to reconcile faith and fact I still cannot accept a death that occurs out of sequential order. In the past few months I have listened to homilies delivered by sincere, loving and compassionate ministers of God, but still I ache--my heart has a void at its center.

Many years ago in Peru, we would observe the almost daily ritual of funeral processions with grieving fathers holding the tiny coffins of their infant children. And almost daily we would bow our heads and choke back a tear for babies we did not know and parents who should not have to go through this heart-wrenching ordeal. It's a distant land without modern services and they deserve better.

Almost two decades have past, but rarely does a week go by that I don't visualize those solemn processions.

Then a few weeks ago the word came: a young boy from our community who had been battling leukemia for several years finally lost his long fight.

A few days later, the teen-aged son of close friends was killed while engaging in a bizarre ritual that's become all the rage with kids these days.

And last week, the infant daughter of a friend--born prematurely--could not overcome the stresses of her birth. Forever I will retain the image of a young father holding the ashes of his infant daughter in his trembling hands.

During this period I also got word that my oldest friend had been killed in an accident caused by his own recklessness. He was not an infant or a teenager, but his mother and father still had to attend the funeral for their son and, for them, it was a tragedy.

The circumstances surrounding his death are unimportant. What happened was a reflection of the way he lived his life. He never gave the slightest thought for the consequences of his actions, either on himself or others. In his personal life he ran roughshod over the people who loved him. In his professional life he took advantage of our innate desire for deals that are too good to be true. As result, life savings were wiped out and lives were ruined. The victims were all strangers, of course, but it mattered little.

His death, caused by his own reckless disregard, was a final poke in the eye to the people who cared for him.

Four funerals. Eight grieving parents.

In the first three cases the tragedy involves lives cut short, aspirations unfulfilled and talents left untapped.

In the last instance the tragedy was not in how he died or even that he died. No, in this case the tragedy was in how he lived his life and the trail of wreckage he left in his wake.

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