A post my friend sent me today jarred a memory.
Growing up, death never really touched me. Yes, living on a farm I saw the natural ebb and flow of life and death - the calves that didn't make it, the chickens that ended up in the freezer. The exuberance of the young ensured that I would live forever. One of my grandmothers died during this time, but she was elderly and infirm, and this was expected. It hurt to see her go, but she hadn't been herself for many years. I was more relieved than pained. It didn't reach out and touch my heart. Maybe I was a cold hearted kid because the experience didn't reach out and touch me, but I think it was more the lack of experience and understanding that age would give me.
Mike (not his real name) was a classmate of mine. He wasn't very smart - he was held back a year back in the times when schools actually did this sort of thing. He was from a poor family that went to the same church I did, so I knew him pretty well. Mike looked taller than he was - he was lanky and lean. He wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes from his older brothers. He always wore clodhoppers - those durable leather lace up boots with yellow soles. His light blonde hair was parted on the side, and a shock of his bangs were generally in one of his eyes. I'm sure his mother and sisters were his barber.
Our high school was a separate building about two blocks from the "new" grade school, where the cafeteria was. When the bell rang for the end of class at lunchtime, Mike would head out at a dead run for lunch. He liked being first in line. We figured he was pretty hungry, too. His parents were just that poor. If seconds were offered, Mike took advantage. Like I said, he was lean. He wasn't fast or quick - some of my better fed buddies could outrun him easily, but he was dogged and determined.
We were sent to the principal's office as well. Mike had saved a place for me close to the door in the class before lunch. It was taught by our football coach, who ate metal rods and spit out nails. Another classmate took my spot. We tossed his books to the back of the class so he'd have to leave MY seat to get them. Coach didn't find any of this amusing, and sent us to The Office. The principal didn't get to swat us - Coach wanted this one for himself. We had to remove all contents from our back pockets. The board was long, wide and flat, drilled with air holes to increase swinging speed. We bent over, and Coach grabbed a couple belt loops and squeezed, to tighten our jeans against our butts. He slightly lifted us so we were on our tip toes. Whack! Only once, but it was enough. Mike's swat sounded a bit more clunky than mine - he had a skinny butt. It stung for most of the hour, and sitting in class was no picnic that day.
We eventually graduated and Mike went to work for one of his brothers who owned one of the gas stations in town. Mike put in seven day weeks, both opening and closing the station. This was one of the old full service stations where they pumped the gas, changed oil, batteries and tires and did minor tuneups. Mike wasn't too happy with his brother. I was more fortunate - I "went off to college" and my part time job was in a discount store.
Mike discovered beer, as did I. Times were different - if a local cop caught us, we were generally escorted or told to go home. If they caught us out later, then we were in deep trouble, but most of us had the sense to listen to authority. Mike had a night off, and went partying.
South of town next to the river is a small, deep pond - The Sand Pit. Sand for road gravel had been extracted from there for years, and it was deep with serious undertow. It was part of "The Route" where we cruised late at night. Mike was cruising after the pool hall closed. He passed out and drove into The Sand Pit. He never regained consciousness and drowned.
He was the first classmate to go, and he went far, far too young. It was a humbling experience - after all, we were all going to live forever. Unfortunately, he was proof of the fallacy of that particular idea.
At the funeral, his older brother - the gas station owner - bawled his eyes out. My roomie - another high school buddy, and I went together, and we both had the same thought: "Bet he's upset that he'll have to hire some help now." Mike wasn't working for him anymore. He sort of resigned.
I think of Mike once in a while - his was the first death that really reached out and grabbed me. For instance, if I was driving way over the speed limit in the middle of the night, it actually occurred to me that I could be killed. Before his death, not so much. I really doubt that our Creator arranged Mike's death so I could learn this object lesson, but I do believe it was one of the minor benefits. Now my body reminds me time is finite. The gray hairs, the sore muscles, the occasional twinges in my hands, and the other hallmarks of growing old serve as constant reminders that the impudence of youth has a price.
But, growing old is part of the deal. We all know this from birth - maybe we can deny it for a while, but the knowledge is always there. What isn't always there is the idea that fate can seal the deal suddenly and without warning. Literally, a bolt of lightning from the sky could burn you on the spot. Or maybe it is a drunk driver hitting someone else head on. The cause isn't as important as the effect. Savor the existence we are granted.