BURKES COLUMN: Unexpected death brings lessons for living
In the aftermath of most tragedies, like the bombing of the Boston Marathon, civil authorities often focus on improving the safety of future public events.
As a parent and grandparent, I will applaud these efforts — up to a point.
I have always been a safety advocate. In fact, I raised my children with such an awareness of safety that they often called me the “safety officer.”
When they were an early age, I taught them fire prevention, drug prevention, stranger awareness and pedestrian safety. The schools added contraception, rape prevention and AIDS awareness.
As adults, we hear our employers advocate safety awareness. They make us wear hats, helmets and seat belts. They add classes in lifesaving, smoking cessation, self-defense, defensive driving, CPR and stress management.
But no matter what we do, most of us know death can come in the most unexpected ways at unimaginable speed.
I learned that lesson in a profound way one afternoon in 1995, when I watched a mother follow her 3-year-old son into our Houston emergency room.
The two of them came by ambulance from an exclusive clubhouse in a metropolitan subdivision. They afternoon was spent at the club's beautifully swept tennis court. The court was gated, supervised, cleaned and staffed by background-checked employees.
“Can I take off my shoes, Mommy?” he asked.
“Sure,” she replied. She wanted him safe, but not overly restricted.
The boy explored his environment as little boys can, by kicking at the tennis fence.
This is fun, he must have thought. I'm in a giant playpen with Mommy. I feel safe.
There's no way out and no way for the bad guys to come in. If any trouble came, Mommy was close enough to meet it.
Close enough was not fast enough. Her son was standing barefoot on a court dampened by morning rain, when he kicked the fence near an improperly grounded outdoor outlet.
In that instant, his life spirit evaporated with the morning dew.
Some might cynically quote the Christian Scripture, “It is appointed unto a man once to die,” but the truth is that no one enters a tennis court in expectation of seeing his or her son electrocuted. No one crosses the start line of a race expecting to be legless at the finish line. If we did, we'd never leave our houses.
The good news is that the text admonishes us to live our lives as if we knew death was coming tomorrow. The verse is an encouragement for us to love each person in our lives with the fullness as if we knew it was our last day.
We live in the days of Sandy Hook, a crazy North Korean dictator and now the bombing at the Boston Marathon. This brings us undeniably closer to death than we like to think.
However, if the fear of death stops us from living, loving and longing for a peaceful future, the shootings and the bombing will have succeeded in toppling the foundation of a free and peaceful society.
Today, my life will take me onto a 10-mile course in Sacramento called the Capital City Classic. I'm sure most of my fellow racers will start with some trepidation, but as we run, it will be with the understanding that as close as death can come, we must hold life even closer.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, speaker and author. He is board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.