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Saturday, October 8, 2011

When Death Knocks

The world lost two notable people this past week. One of them was not famous at all; she lived a simple life in West Virginia. The other was known around the world; he was very famous and very wealthy. Both had an impact on the world, but in far different ways.

Although I had never met Peggy Sue in person, or even talked to her on the phone, her personality shone through her on-line posts. She was a vivacious, funny, kind and caring person who dearly loved her husband and her dogs. Because she lived in West Virginia, she often referred to herself as a 'hillbilly' and she loved to tell redneck jokes.

Just a week before her passing, Peggy had to say goodbye to her beloved dog Freeway, who had a terminal illness. To read of Peggy's passing just a week later, at the young age of 53, was a real shock.

This sudden and unexpected loss has been a wake-up call, serving as yet another reminder of the fragility and brevity of our time on earth. I hope the loss of this vibrant woman will serve to remind us that life is fleeting, we never know when we will lose someone in our lives, and that we should appreciate every minute we have.

The famous person who died was, of course, Apple founder and innovator Steve Jobs. I didn't know him, either, but his creative passion is felt and seen around the world in the many innovations developed under his leadership: the iPhone, iPod and iPad, among others. 

We never know when Death will come knocking on our door. It could be from an accident or a heart attack or a terminal illness. We just never know. It behooves us all to set aside the 'it couldn't happen to me' mentality and realize that it could, and can, and will, happen to each of us. We just don't know when.

Much has been written about living life to its fullest, letting those we care about know how we feel, and enjoying the lives we have been given. We tend to get so wrapped up in the mundane details and obligations of living that we often overlook the blessing that is life. We need to:
  • love more and worry less. 
  • dwell on what we have, not on what we don't have.
  • appreciate the simple things in life: a beautiful sunrise, a nice day, coffee with a friend, playing with our kids or dogs, our good health.
  • not stress over the little things in life (and much of what we stress about is little)
  • spend more time with family and good friends
  • take time for ourselves
  • greet each new day with anticipation
  • be happy more than we are sad, worried or angry
  • continue to grow and learn
  • share our blessings with others, whether through volunteer work, providing support to those in need or donating material things such as food or money
  • realize that no matter what our problems are, so many people have far greater problems
Life is a gift given to us at birth, with an unknown and unknowable expiration date. We can sit on the sidelines, we can participate, or we can jump in and lead. The choice is ours. Remember the lines from the Lee Ann Womack song "I hope you dance"?

"And when you get the chance to sit it out or dance
 I hope you dance. 
 I hope you dance.
 I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance.
Never settle for the path of least resistance."

We never know when the knock at the door will come. We cannot know when our clock will run out of time. As Steve Jobs said in a commencement address to Stanford University graduates, "Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

I can't think of anything to add to that. Be yourself, let your light -- whatever it may be -- shine brightly. It doesn't matter what your contribution is or how many people you influence. Don't waste your time trying to be something or someone you're not. Most of all, live your life. You don't get a second chance.