Unanswerable Questions About Life And Death

My son Colby closely follows many sports, and Kobe Bryant has been one of his favorite athletes. Only a few months younger than the basketball great, Colby has been following him from the start of his career. When he told me and his dad on Sunday that Bryant died in a helicopter accident, the news affected me more than it would have for most any other sports personality. I knew Colby was heartbroken. Hearing that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter also died in the crash, I was heartbroken.

Victims in the crash: Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna

Life has no rhyme or reason as far as I’m concerned.  We’re born, we go through an insane amount of “stuff”, and then it’s adios muchachos. That’s hard to accept. I’m not a religious person, but I’d like to think this life is just one humongous SAT test for the next. And the next after that. 

I believe we’re directly responsible for much of the “stuff”- good and bad – that we experience in our lives (drink too much, have a hangover; spend more than we can afford, go into debt;  work really hard, earn more money and get promotions). But, we have no sway over lots of other “stuff.” When we learn about a young person who leaves us out of the blue, especially someone so inspirational to millions of others, it’s impossible not to ask “WHY”?

Who doesn’t look at the photos of Bryant and his beautiful teenage daughter and think about the fragility and randomness of life?  And who doesn’t say to herself “there but for the grace of God go I”? Even if we don’t believe in God, we’re acknowledging that our fate is not entirely in our own hands. 

Was Bryant’s death shocking because we don’t expect someone so young, healthy and vibrant to die? Maybe that’s part of it, but we’re even shocked when someone like 29-year-old Heath Ledger dies, despite knowing there’s a higher degree of probability that a drug abuser will die from an overdose. Are we less horrified when a 40-year-old dies after suffering from cancer for a few years? Maybe, but we’re still shocked. No matter what the circumstances, it’s unnerving to hear about a premature death. 

Bryant leaves behind his wife and three daughters, one less than a year old. When I was a neurotic kid, I’d check to make sure my dad was breathing as I passed his room on my way to pee. I thought I couldn’t live without him. It hurts thinking about how Bryant’s daughters feel.  It’s horrible to lose a parent at such young ages. 

I am grateful that life has not dealt me or my family an abundance of harsh blows, and I’m thankful everyday that my adult children and almost seven-year-old grandson have roofs over their heads, food on their tables, and good health.  Situations that would worry and aggravate me for weeks on end when I was younger no longer have the same impact. I’ve (mostly) learned how to put my life in perspective and to look more closely at the bigger picture. That’s one ‘positive’ we can take away from a premature death.  I try hard never to stop learning.

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