I suppose the concept of extraneous shocks, a term often found in the study of economics, is equally applied to the study of life. In lay terms, it simply means a situation or condition that is exceptional and occurs outside the norm. September 11, 2001 is a classic example of an extraneous shock. September 1, 1939 is another example of something extraordinary occurring outside the norm, although in fairness the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany was probably more reasonably anticipated than the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.
But back to life. How do we ever know when an extraneous shock is going to penetrate the shields we erect and bring everything crashing down upon our shoulders? Obviously we don't, which makes life so intriguing and so frustrating, all at the same time. We make plans and then life, with its extraneous shocks intrudes, and everything changes - immediately, and often without any consideration for our needs or desires.
I am working towards my 65th birthday, a milestone for most men and women since it means registration for Medicare, and for those that have planned well, retirement. There are other related milestones, but let's ignore them for the moment. The key, for me at least, is that I am approaching the end of the journey. True, I may have another 20 to 30 years, based on family history. Then again,I could be gone tomorrow since we never truly never know neither the day nor the time that we will depart this good earth. But having lived for nearly 65 years I can honestly say that I feel I have seen enough to make the journey to date more than acceptable. And I feel privileged to still be kicking around in as healthy a condition as I find myself today.
So, why am I being so introspective this last day of 2014: I suppose it is a fair question, especially since my thoughts today are a tad sad and sometimes writing about things make them easier for me.
The first was the passing of my sister Betty. She was 79 years old and my Dad's first child. Her mother passed away when Betty was a young teenager and my father then met my mother, who had two children, my sister Judy and my brother Joe. Once mom and dad came together, they added an additional four children to the roster and my sister Betty became a surrogate mom for me and my younger siblings. Family legend holds that I actually called my sister "Ma", or something along those lines.
Betty led a full life and while she fought her own demons (as we all do in one way or the other), she managed to raise four pretty neat kids and was a nurse for most of her adult life, taking care of others day in and day out.
Attending Betty's funeral was very challenging as it reminded us all that life is precious and we aren't going to be around forever. I think about that constantly and as we all age, I worry about my brothers and sisters and wish they would take better care of themselves. Mortality is such a bummer!
Another tragic event came when we learned that the son of our dear friends who used to live around the corner from us in the Netherlands died under tragic circumstances. He was the same age as my son Joseph and they were friends, despite the distance that separated them since we moved to Atlanta.
A naturally funny kid with a wonderful sense of humor, James was a fun kid to be around. He was 8 years old when we left the Netherlands, although he did visit us in Atlanta on a couple of occasions. He and my son Joseph remained in touch through Facebook and the odd telephone conversation or text message. They also played "XBox Live" together from time to time. They were in many ways very much alike and there seemed to be a natural connection between them. James lived in Scotland with his Mom and younger brother Timmy. Older sister Emma is at University and unfortunately, his Mom and Dad separated and eventually divorced after we moved to Atlanta.
While James Mom and I traveled across the globe with our respective roles, his Dad and Kate hung out together with the five kids in tow. We often ate meals together - the kids played together all the time and we frequently did things together as families, especially taking walks and going to the beach. Simon (James's Dad) and I were both quite fond of darts and red wine, and we both loved music. The reality is that we were nearly one family separated by the two houses that we inhabited as each evening reached a close.
I cannot imagine the shock and emotional pain that Simon and Elizabeth experienced. How do you comfort a grieving parent, especially one you have not seen in several years? What do you say? What do you do? Send flowers or a donation? It all seemed so trivial compared to the loss that our two amazing friends had experienced. And what could we say to your own children, who viewed Timothy, James and Emma as an extension of our own family, who remember fondly their time in the Netherlands living across the canal from the Brooks family?
Life is challenging folks and we are all subject to extraneous shocks, but the loss of a child has to be the worst possible scenario possible and my heart still aches for the Brooks family even now.
But we have to continue to move forward, putting our grief aside so that we can get out of bed in the morning and do the things we have to do to make our lives work. I know that my sister's children found it incredibly challenging, especially my niece Karen, who still finds it very hard to deal with her mom's passing - first Christmas without her Mom, first New Year's - and yet, she has to get out bed and go to work and do the things she needs to do to make her daughter's life enjoyable.
So as we enter 2015, I suppose my advice is to cling to those you love and find every opportunity to spend time with them, because one day they won't be there and you will regret all the times you made excuses for not spending time with them.