By Hogmanay, I had heard of several people who had died young or unexpectedly during the Christmas/New Year period. This Christmas Eve, sad that I had not managed to take part in many of the traditions that I have long held fondly, I spent some time remembering Eva Markvoort. Eva was a woman who was born the same week and year as me and had Cystic Fibrosis. She was arty, creative, kind, outgoing, dramatic and had a strong sense of social justice. She inspired people all around the world, including me, with her blog, YouTube videos and her efforts to raise money and awareness for CF and organ donation. Eva loved Christmas, and one of the things she did every year was rope friends and family into a ‘Sing for CF’ where they would sing Christmas Carols to raise money for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. On her final Christmas when she was suffering with chronic rejection of her donated lungs, she was unable to go out to do it, so everyone gathered in Eva’s living room turned bedroom and did a live webstream singing Christmas songs the week leading up to Christmas. And I sat on my laptop singing along with them in my bedroom in Scotland (despite the time difference!)
I feel like as each year of my life comes to an end (i’ve had over 30 of them now), I am reminded by seemingly senseless tragedies that we just never know what is around the corner. It reminds me of the conversation between a mother and her dying son being recounted in Fly A Little Higher. Zach was struggling to see the point of school as teachers were asking them to write essays for college and friends were full of talk about plans after high school – all things that he was likely never going to be participating in. Laura prayed to God to give her the words to respond to her son’s struggle.
“How many kids are in your class?” [Laura] asked.
“I don’t know, maybe around seven hundred,” he replied.
“Zach, the likelihood of one of them dying within the next few years is pretty good… There is a kid in your class who is going to die soon but just doesn’t know it. You know you’re going to die, and you have a pretty good idea of when. You have the advantage of preparing your soul. You get it. That other kid – he thinks he’s just preparing for college. So what’s really going on here isn’t that your friends are moving on and leaving you behind; it’s the opposite. You’ve moved on and have left them behind.”
-Fly A Little Higher by Laura Sobiech (page 3)
Of course, the reason we know the names of Zach Sobiech, Eva Markvoort, Emily Thackray, Stephen Sutton and many others is because though their lives may have been short in terms of calendar years, they were high in quantity of achievement. They have left us behind, and for those of us left behind (especially for those close to them) the loss is painful and the grief is hard to bear. But they lived life to the full – even when it wasn’t easy. There’s a message that Zach shared to the world…. “I want people to know that you don’t have to find out you are dying to start living“.
Truth is, we are all dying. Being born and dying are the two things of the human experience every single one of us shares. We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it will happen one day. We can sit and wait…or we can make choices to make the best out of the time, resources and abilities we are given.
We might have a long tale to tell. It might be unexpectedly short.
But the point is – it’s not the length, but how good it is, that matters.