Ready for life

The slogan printed on the semi stated, ”Ready for Life.”

I grimaced. I was traveling home for the calling hours of a high school classmate. The second classmate we lost in a little more than a week.

We’re in our early 50s. We’re still in our prime. Maybe wobbling on questionable knees and iffy backs, but we’re still kicking hard. Aren’t we?

I eased into the passing lane. And thought about Mark and Julie in high school.

I remember Julie as full of slightly awkward joy. I don’t think she ever realized how pretty and strong she was. An artist, a writer, she grew up to be a registered nurse. Helping and saving lives.

She collapsed Oct. 27 at a store. She never recovered.

Mark exuded calm confidence. He laughed. And he achieved. He became an engineer who owned the family business, a school board president, a sailor and a pilot. He molded young lives into something good.

He lost his three-year battle with cancer on Nov. 5.

I don’t understand.

Our class gathered this summer amid grapevines and mosquitoes for our 35th reunion. We’ve changed. Some of the skinny kids thickened up a tad or three. Some of the baby faces now are etched with experience. Ugly ducklings morphed into full-fledged swans.

We laughed. We talked. We caught up. Some of us have done well at business. Others achieved dreams, or at least snippets. Some of us accumulated wonderful families. Others found love.

We all had something good – or fantastic – to share.

We skipped over a lot of that other stuff, disappointments, heartaches, pain. It’s all part of life, and we push through it.

Through the celebration, we recalled the ones already missing. My cousins Scott and Bill, gone in their 20s. Hank and Bob, my partners in a junior high social studies project. Patty, who jounced awake on the same bus ride from the country that I tried to sleep through. Matt, Joyce, Kathy. Jeff, who never made it to graduation. Others.


Yes, my beard is white. I thought it had something to do with genetics, the premature graying that runs in my family. When did I blow past premature?

The line for Mark’s calling hours twisted throughout the funeral home and overflowed out the door and down the wheelchair ramp, an awesome testament to the man he was. I swelled with pride for my classmate.

His dad told someone ahead of me that parents aren’t supposed to have to bury their children. I know. I buried my son 15 years ago this month. Josh was 9, born with defects that were supposed to make life impossible. Nine years, almost 10, was more than we were permitted to expect. But when he died, it was too soon.

Mark was 53. That’s still too soon. Way too soon for a father to bury a son.

On the drive back, I found a radio station playing all Christmas music. For nearly the next 90 minutes, I listened, and even sang along – out of season – to songs of hope and joy, lyrics celebrating a birth, music full of life.

I thought of Mark and Julie. Of my cousins and classmates gone too soon. Of my son, and of another dad burying his son. I remembered the lives. I remembered vibrant, silly, happy, wonderful people.

I smiled.

”Ready for Life?” Yes. ”Old” or not, yes, we are. And to allow those lost too soon to play on, warm and alive, in our memories.