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Jeff Ward:Taking Solace in the Joy of Lives Well-Lived

The deaths of a 12-year-old Oswego baseball player and a West Chicago mayor remind each of us to seize the day and to do what you love.

It’s been a rough week for Patchland.

Whenever the unthinkable forces us to consider the specter of our own tenuous mortality, if you sit still long enough and take a deep breath, you can feel the anxiety in the air. These things aren’t supposed to happen, and when they do, we’re not quite sure what to do.

On April 11, 12-year-old  of Oswego died when he was hit in the head by a baseball while warming up a pitcher at a game in Wheaton.

We try to convince ourselves—and each other—that this kind of thing could never happen to us, but that’s nothing more than whistling through the graveyard. Aside from the kind of due diligence that tilts the odds in our favor, we know no one is immune.

Then we just as quickly try to put it out of our minds because the thought of losing our own child scares the bejesus out of us.

Twelve-year-old boys should always come home from a baseball game. They’re not supposed to die from being hit in the neck with an errant warm up pitch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit by a pitched ball, and I’m still here.

Of course, the call to make youth sports safer will inevitably be issued, but there’s only so much we can do. Even that short morning trip down the staircase is fraught with peril.

And those are just the things over which we have some semblance of control!

Every time my sons board that school bus I get a small twinge in the base of my heart because I know their well-being rests squarely in someone else’s hands for the next eight hours. As anyone who’s ever endured an I-88 onramp will attest, our survival frequently depends upon the good graces of others.

But while there’s something to be said for the Sword of Damocles, the point of that tale is not to remind us of how fragile we are, it’s to warn us of the dangers of cowering in the shadow of a sword hanging over our head by a thread. Playing the game not to lose is a fate far worse than death.

As Bruce Springsteen so eloquently noted in his song, Devils and Dust, “What if what you do to survive kills the things you love? Fear’s a powerful thing.”

The sad reality is, whether we like it or not, sometimes, young men die during the course of a baseball game and, short of banning youth sports, there’s nothing we can do about it.

But thankfully, as is always the case, we’ve been given the perfect defense against the prospects that terrify us most. The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas summed it up quite nicely when he told us to “… not go gentle into that good night” and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

All poetic license aside, what he’s trying to say is the answer to our fragile existence lies not in shaking our fist at some deity or succumbing to the fear of the darkness, but in making the best of what we’ve been given. In other words, the perfect defense against our inescapable death is a life well-lived.

Take West Chicago Mayor Mike Kwasman, who, this week, was felled by a heart attack at the age of 65. Though his friends, family and city will certainly mourn his passing, he’s a perfect example of a man who always sported a smile, was passionate about his city, and did exactly what he loved.

Accounting for our tendency to go overboard with eulogies, even those curmudgeonly online commenters had nothing negative to say about him. Talk about not going gentle into that good night! What better way to honor a man's legacy than to say, “He lived a life worth living!”

Better yet, if you take the time to really think about it, doesn’t the fact that we aren’t promised our next breath actually free us from this impermanent earthbound torment?

The Zen masters understand that all we truly have is this very moment so we may as well enjoy it. Living in the future is an illusion that leads to discontent, because when we lose our “now,” we forget about what we already have.

So rather than try to exert the kind of control that's only an illusion or live in constant fear of loss, we can choose to embrace those things that do give this ephemeral life meaning.

For example, I’m amazed that I found a woman willing to marry the likes of me and, though she thinks I’m nuts, I frequently show my gratitude for her willingness to join me on the journey.

Yes, children can be a challenge, and I often repeat my Lisle School Board friend Anne Blaeske’s favorite saying, “I love my children and I hate jail,” but despite his protests, when my 15-year-old son comes home from school, I frequently give him a rather overeager hug.

As you already know, I also coach my younger son’s travel soccer team because he’s growing up too fast, too.

I may not be the brightest bulb in the pack, but at my advanced age I’ve finally figured out that the solace and power in this life come from living in the here and now and being grateful for what you already have.

So while we rightfully offer our condolences for and mourn the losses of Eric Lederman and Mayor Kwasman, instead of trying to quickly put their passing out of our minds, it might pay to remember that our own mortality isn’t such a bad thing after all.

It’s what makes life worth living!

Alan April 27, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Jeff, thank you for the reminder. We do have lives worth living..., all of us do. It's how we choose to live it that will add value to our life's overall worth.

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