Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Death be not proud . . .

I found out Monday morning (via Facebook, of all places) that a colleague of mine from my time at BYU, Gary Hatch, had passed away unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism. The shock of it momentarily took my breath away--after all, he was only 45, a good 14-15 years younger than my parents. And plus, for someone like me who has a genetic blood-clotting disorder, the thought of a pulmonary embolism made my own mortality so much more vivid.

I can't seem to stop thinking about his death, not only because he was a good man and a sound scholar who will be missed on many levels (his family, certainly, but also the university and rhet/comp fields), but because of all the things his death (anyone's death, really) leaves undone. One of the most poignant examples of this, to me, is his to-read list on Goodreads. For anyone unfamiliar with this site, Goodreads is a kind of social networking site for book-lovers, allowing you to share book recommendations and reviews with "friends" and to keep track of your own reading. I was "friends" with Gary and found him to be one of the most regular and prolific posters of my online friends. In particular, he was assiduous about noting the books that he meant to read. When he died, he had nearly 1200 books in his "to-read" list. Now, I don't know exactly what Heaven looks like, or whether he'll have a chance to read these books there (chances are, he'll have better things to do), but this list reminds of how easily death interrupts the trajectory of life and its plans.

I'm sure, if he were asked, the list of books he's read are among the least of the accomplishments he hopes to leave behind. For me, it's interesting about how the question of death puts my own priorities into focus--if I knew that I were going to die soon, what would I be concerned about? Would I worry about teaching and research? Almost certainly not. About writing? Maybe, but only because I'd like that writing to speak to my family (especially my children) when I was gone. Mostly, I think I'd be concerned that my family--my children in particular--know that I loved them. I should say, I don't expect to die anytime soon (but then, who knows?) but I did want to note here, at least semi-publicly, how important my family is to me.

When I pass away, I hope that somewhere, among the glorified list of things I have done, it reads prominently that I loved my children well. Even if I don't get around to all the other things on my to-do list.

What about you? What do you most want to be remembered for?

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