Monday, November 05, 2012

A Gift

We have all  read or seen or heard about the devastation and tragedy that occurred when Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States last week.  Over 80 people lost their lives, thousands of homes were destroyed, millions of people lost power and and it is estimated the storm damage cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 billion dollars.  It was by all accounts one of the worst storms to hit the United States.  We all have seen the news and read accounts of this destruction and the impacts to places like Atlantic City, Staten Island and other locations along the eastern seaboard.  For those of us who don't live in this area, we understand the impacts that are being felt by those the storm touched, but we understand this mostly in the abstract.  We often lose sight of the impact to the individual, as the numbers are so large that it brings to mind that old statement attributed to Joe Stalin who presumably told Winston Churchill:  When one man dies it's a tragedy, when thousands die, it's statistics.  Now, Stalin was evil incarnate, and I don't want to give this terrible man any credit, but he had a point.  When we are separated from tragedy by a distance, we often don't experience the emotional impact as those who were directly affected by it.   We acknowledge the sadness of the event, we contribute through donations to try and help, but generally those who aren't directly involved are somewhat immunized from the personal impact of such events. 

That all changed for me this morning.  I found out from a former colleague of mine, that another former employee of mine was killed along with her husband during the storm.  The woman's name was Elizabeth, and she was more than just a former employee of mine.  Over the course of our working relationship together, which lasted about 5 years, Beth became a friend.  Not a close friend, but a friend nonetheless.   As I worked with Beth and got to know more about her, I realized we had much in common. We were both interested in science. We both loved and owned horses. We both had kids the same age and experienced much of the same joys and difficulties that being a parent brings.  Beth was a great colleague, always professional and dedicated to doing a good job on whatever task she was asked to take on.  I respected and admired her ability to handle her job and balance her life as a wife and mother.

The accident that took her life occurred when she and her husband and her two youngest children were returning from the equestrian center that they owned where they had gone to secure the horses when a tree over one hundred feet tall and three feet in diameter fell on their car and crushed Beth and her husband Rich to death immediately.  The boys, in the back of the SUV survived but were seriously injured.  Beth and her husband had four children, two girls one who is in college and another in her last year of high school along with the two boys, ages 10 and 12.   In an instant those kids were made orphans.  Their parents, in their late 40's were excellent people.  Both held doctorate degrees in the science disciplines, and both parents were heavily involved in their children's lives and activities.  By all accounts, they were model parents and I know from my association with Beth, terrific people.

It is terrible to lose someone you know and counted as a friend.  It provides a stark reminder that we are here only temporarily and that at any moment, because of any reason, we could be gone.  Life as we know it is full of frustrations and irritations and nuisances and we get very angry on very petty things. It is natural. We get caught up in the minutiae of the moment. We get distracted and deeply engaged by things that don't really matter in the main, and in a flash, our lives, or the lives of our loved ones can be over.  How many people did you know during your life that have passed on and you thought that you hadn't talked to them enough?  We get busy with our jobs, with our hobbies, with our numerous mundane tasks that seem to take all of our time.  Most of us on reflection would say we haven't spent enough time on the things that matter.  In general, if you are a parent, you probably have thought at one time or another that you haven't spent enough time with your kids. If you have parents still alive, you probably have thought you haven't called your mom or dad enough, or if you are lucky enough to live close by, not gone and seen them enough.  I think we can all look back on our lives and find those moments we missed that we'd like to have back again. I know from personal experience that I missed too many baseball games, too many tea parties and dance recitals, too many events that I wish I hadn't. Those days are gone and will never return.  But, I can rethink the present.  I can behave differently regarding those things that really matter. 

I lost a friend in the storm.   Life is a gift.  Our friends and families are gifts.  We don't get to keep them forever.  I'm reminded how fragile we are.  Thinking about Beth and how she and Rich were suddenly taken has made me think that I will as long as I'm able, try and focus on the things that matter, which to me are my family and friends.

Please,  if you can and have not yet done so, go to the Red Cross website and donate to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. If you have already done so, thank you. If you haven't yet, please do so as your donation will help provide shelter, medical care, a meal or even just some emotional support.  I'm donating again tonight because it just got personal.

Please help those who need it if you can. Take a moment and hug your spouse, call your kids, your parents, your friends.  Tell them they are important in your life and you are better for knowing them.  Do it soon, because you may not get a chance to later.

Tomorrow is promised to no one.


1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear of your lose. This is tragic for the kids. I have several relatives in northern NJ. Still lots of power outages. This will take a long time to recover and many may never. Fragile aren't we.