A holiday reflection

December 19, 2004|By Raymond Daniel Burke

SOMETHING terrible happened this past year in northern Baltimore County, but more than the sorrow that touched that community, there is a message in it that was intended to benefit us all.

How incongruous it was for tragedy to have visited pastoral Sparks and Monkton in the last days of June. Just when this beautiful region was so vibrant with the warm arrival of summer, the days of backyard cookouts and baseball on the radio. Long daylight evenings when the heat retreats and the grass moistens. Days burdened only by the challenge of finding something to do.

When 10-year-old Sam Losey, in a tragic family accident, was killed under the wheels of his father's vehicle, there were no words that adequately offered comfort. No reasons that offered any satisfactory explanation. No justification for the missing place in this year's fifth grade. No way of sensibly making good of something so horribly wrong.

But we are creatures blessed with the gift of reflection, and the passage of time becomes our comrade in the search for meaning. During this holiday season, as the reactions of grief and anger mercifully give way to our better natures, we can reflect, remember and take inspiration. Indeed, we owe as much to Sam. If his short life is to have any meaning, it can only be through the manner in which we take his death into our hearts and allow it to touch us.

Because Sam, through the sadness of his death, speaks to all of us. He was only a casual neighbor to me. But he offers us a view of life we are often too busy or too self-absorbed to comprehend. It is the reminder of how precious are our lives and the lives of those we love.

People die daily by the thousands. They die of illness for which there is no cure and of lack of adequate health care. They die of starvation caused by droughts and of food shortages caused by government corruption. They die of old age in comfort, and in loneliness. Some die with all of their faculties, some without knowing who they are. They die doing their duty for right and are sent to die for policies that are wrong. They die in unpreventable accidents, and because of careless disregard. They die at the hands of those who hate, and by the acts of those too mentally ill to love.

Any day can be our day to meet death or have our lives turned on end by the death of another. So it must follow that everyday is our day to embrace life and to treasure the lives of those around us.

That may seem wistful and maudlin in our hectic age with its jobs, responsibilities, schedules and pressures. But, in the end, it is how our lives will be truly measured.

With all the superfluity that we take into our lives -- our houses, cars and recreations -- there must be room to display the fundamental essence of our humanity. Our ability to care for one another. To support and inspire. To give of ourselves.

Of course, we all know this. We all understand the song Cat's in the Cradle, and its lesson of how quickly children grow up and how fast a life can pass by. But we are simply too preoccupied to always remember all there is to do to help ensure that our lives, and the lives of those around us, are truly meaningful.

That is where Sam comes in. Sam is the hand grabbing us at the back of our collar. Pulling us from the treadmill of our day. Telling us to stop and look. Look at this day and all it offers us. And how instantly it can all be gone, and how thoughtlessly we waste the time that is given to us. That is the meaning and purpose of this tragedy on a past summer day. It is a reminder to take note of the wonder around us, and the opportunity we have been given to bring splendor to places where there is ugliness, comfort to where there is pain, hope to where there is despair, and encouragement to where there is a dream.

No matter how many painful tragedies occur, we will not always be mindful of these things. We are, after all, only human. But in those fleeting instances when we do justice to the gift of life, we will all be much enriched.

Thank you for the reminder, Sam. What a noble purpose your life had.

Raymond Daniel Burke is a partner in a Baltimore law firm. He lives in Monkton.

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