Untimely Endings

Gilda Radner, who herself died an early death from ovarian cancer, once observed:  “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

I had occasion to remember that line twice in the last two weeks: last week when I attended the heartbreaking wake and funeral of a young man my daughter’s age who died in an automobile accident, and more recently yesterday, when a woman described the death of a young person in her family.

This was not, of course, my first experience with untimely deaths.  Indeed, my count of those is quite high, and includes, among others, friends and a relative who died on 9/11 and a younger cousin who died fighting a fire.

But the reality is that we all want perfect endings.  We want stories to have clear beginnings, middles, and ends – with the ends coming at the appropriate times.

And, for the most part, we live our lives – notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary – expecting that we will get that.  I can intellectually appreciate that my end may come at any moment, but I still expect that I will be hiking in Canada next month, celebrating Thanksgiving in Appleton in November, teaching a particular course next spring and summer, and so on.

Obviously we can’t live our lives without making plans.  But we also need to remember that no future moment is a guarantee, and that we should cherish each moment that we have, letting each be an opportunity to spread love and compassion.

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