The recent passing of a friend and colleague has plunged me, once again, into deep thought about how frail life is, and our complete inability, as human beings, to predict our future.
We like to think we're in control. Facing the future is less scary that way, but in reality, there is no guarantee we will even make it to the end of the day.
I remember when I was a kid, thinking I was invincible. At that age, that mindset is common. Lifetime plans are thoughts not yet formed or conceived. But life has a way of throwing you a curveball now and then.
It's always painful to see family members and friends disappear slowly, one by one. Saying good-bye is never easy. First, a parent, then, a grandparent, then, other family members and friends. It's a wake-up call.
Sometimes, you don't even have a chance to say good-bye. My father's passing when I was 9 years old was sudden and unexpected. It took me years to learn to deal with it. A few years later, when my beloved grandmother got sick, I was out of state when she passed away.
I was in school, and did not get an opportunity to attend her funeral. A few years ago, my favorite aunt died suddenly. I will always remember her as kind, warm-hearted and fun-loving, with a wonderfully infectious laugh that my cousin inherited.
The last time I visited Rhode Island (which, I'm embarrassed to say, has been a long, long time ago), it wasn't just for a vacation. One of the things I made a point of doing was stopping by the respective cemeteries of my grandmother and my aunt, to visit their graves.
I know they were looking down on me as I stood there reflecting on years past.
When someone is here one day, then suddenly gone the next, without any warning, the questions that suddenly bubble up to the surface force you to consider your past, present and future.
Thinking about relationships, and the fact that someone special and very dear to you is now in eternity, is sobering. You re-prioritize your life, and the goals you may have had 10 years ago, five years ago, or even yesterday, could suddenly shift, or morph into something completely different.
Other goals that you may have had, that seemed important, fade away in the face of new experiences.
You change as a person, and become more introspective. You realize that this life is not all there is, and, maybe, this is preparation for something else yet to come. The saying, "Life is not a dress rehearsal," comes to mind.
You realize, sometimes with a shock, that the emotional baggage you may have been carrying around all these years is dragging you down. Jettison the baggage and float higher, or hang onto it and drown. It can occur to you that each new day you wake up, and breathe, means you've been given another chance to make the most of what you've been given.
It's all very liberating, and makes one more spiritual. It causes a person to scrutinize his or her life to determine what's really important, and what's just window dressing.
It keeps you from taking anyone for granted, knowing they may be taken from you at a moment's notice. I realize now how precious life is, that it's an extraordinary blessing. I also rejoice, knowing that one day, we shall all be reunited up above.
Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.