I got an email Monday night from my friend Brian showcasing the trophy he had made for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. I clicked the Reply All button and excitedly tapped out the textual equivalent to unbridled hooting and hollering with the mandatory number of unnecessary four-letter words thrown in for good measure. Just as I was about to send the email, I had a funny thought come over me and decided to delete it instead.
Not ten minutes later Brian sent a second email saying that our friend Jeff had just stopped by to say his father died of a heart attack on Monday. Brian was asked to spread the word.
I only recently got to know Jeff, having met him just two years ago, and the vast majority of our interaction is in the form of cross-country electronic trashtalk and outright mockery confined to the realm of fantasy sports. Of our group of a dozen or so guys, Jeff is one of the ones I know the least. He was a late addition if you will and whereas I have known most of the guys in the group for nearly 20 years now and consider many of them extended family, I'm still getting to know Jeff. Nevertheless, the news hit me like a punch to the gut.
When it comes to death, I've always viewed it in terms of generations. We're all on a slow conveyor-belt ride to the big unknown and our grandparents were always out there in front, followed distantly behind by our parents, and then after some more space, there we stand. I believe many of us think of it this way even if only subconsciously, and I believe that much of the reason behind my mother's sadness at my grandmother's passing several years ago was tied to this thought. Sure, she was sad to see her mother die, but I think she knew that in many ways, her mom's death meant she was next. She was now leading the conveyor belt for our family.
Kristin and I each have one remaining grandparent and are lucky in that we have all four of our parents. In fact, everyone I know who is my age still has all of their parents. The buffer between us and death is holding firm.
Or at least it was until that email arrived from Brian. Now someone my age, someone who is a part of my life, has lost a parent. My heart feels tremendous sadness for what he must be going through and although I have to begrudgingly refrain from making the trip to NJ for the wake, I wish I could be there to lend support. Even if only to try and make him laugh for a moment by reminding him of the horrible trades I made last fantasy baseball season.
But I'd be lying if I didn't say that much of the sadness I feel is due to the status of the buffer zone. Jeff's father's death draws near something forever kept at arm's length. It can't be ignored anymore. As young at heart and mind as we feel -- and although I often still think of myself as if I'm still in my teens -- we've approached the phase of life where we begin to lose our parents. Maybe not our own right away, but those of our friends; those of our cousins; and those of our co-workers.
And with each passing death, another dent in the buffer zone is made. With each passing year the buffer thins. And before any of us realize it, we will be standing alongside our siblings and friends leading the way forward on the conveyor belt, knowing that we're next.
I know I'll be in good company as I near the end of the ride; I just hope I've taken enough time to enjoy it while it lasts.
Because in the end, time is the only thing we can never truly have enough of.