Once again, I find myself hearing the news of another young person’s death. In the past few years, I’ve encountered more deaths of friends and classmates than seems normal… I’m only 21 years old.
Yesterday while browsing facebook, I saw the newsfeed flooded with statuses about a former high school classmate of mine who had passed away. We were acquaintances at best, occasionally passing each other in the hallways or briefly saying hello and making small talk. Although I never knew Austin very well, it makes me so sad to see a community grieving the loss of another young face. Just two years ago, we lost Alex suddenly (someone who was good friends with a lot of my friends, so I knew him through them and some classes together). These past 3 years have been laden with news of the deaths of my peers; some suicides among friends in college, death from sickness, accidents or substance abuse… It is shocking to me the sheer number of people I know that have died at a young age.
I’ve never been one who handles emotional situations well… I shut things out and ignore the emotional aspect and attempt to view issues from an entirely logical perspective. However, these instances force me to evaluate myself and my feelings and its really terrifying at times. It scares me to know that we, as young adults with the world at our feet, are not invincible. I am sometimes afraid to look at my life and ask myself if I’ve been living to my fullest potential… Do I have regrets? Am I trying my hardest? Am I a good and decent person? If I died tomorrow, I wonder if my life would have been something to be remembered as great or simply mediocre.
I think that death causes us survivors to look more closely at our own lives than any other event. I think about what happens after we die and I struggle with the answers I come up with. I am forced to ask myself about my beliefs on religion and theology, morals and “goodness.” How do I determine whether I am “good” enough to get to Heaven, if I believe in God? Is there like a sliding scale for that? On the other hand, if I don’t believe in God, what happens after I die? Do I just rot in the ground or is my soul floating around somewhere? I am so afraid to die before I decide what I believe, and I hope that my friends were able to get their beliefs in order before they left us.
Beyond self-reflection, the death of someone you know really makes you realize just how much one person can impact an entire community and beyond. I have started to realize that we, as people, create a ripple effect into the lives of others. A brief conversation can make a lasting impact on someone, just as Alex had done with me. I never knew him well, but from just one conversation I was dumbfounded at how kind and easy-going Alex was. It makes me wonder about the lasting impressions that I have on the people around me, and it makes me want to be a better person all the time.
Now, as I look at my old community grieve the loss of another kid via various social networks and phone communication (I am in California and they are in Colorado), I am starting to understand some things about life and death. Yes, another vibrant and beautiful life has been lost. I don’t think the effects a death has on a community ever get any easier to deal with. But, life will go on. We will honor and remember those who have died, and hopefully their deaths will act as catalysts for positive change, even just in small amounts. How can we change? We can learn to live more beautifully, peacefully, spontaneously. We can learn to not hold grudges and to say “I love you” more. We can hold ourselves to higher standards and realize that time can run out any second, so we need to take advantage of the time we have. There are too many of us who cling tentatively to our insecurities and err on the side of caution. There isn’t enough time to wish you’d done something, you have to seize your opportunities and keep on trying. Life goes on; whether you choose to live to the fullest is up to you.
RIP Austin, Alex, Ben, Katie, and John