Every now and then, life gets you down. It might be a bad grade in an important class, a letter from your first-choice college saying “no thanks,” a break-up with a boyfriend, a demotion at work, not even being at work, or simply the realization that we haven’t accomplished everything that we thought we would have at 30, 40, 50 or beyond. It’s a momentary hiccup in the normal, clean respiration of our existence.
And then you happen to come across something that makes you realize how unimportant those temporary interruptions of an otherwise peaceful life really are. This morning, while reading the paper, I skimmed the obituaries section. As I’ve gotten older, it’s something I tend to do with a little more frequency than before, especially since they’ve started printing photographs of the deceased.
That’s what made me stop, mid-sip of coffee, and do a double-take. There, staring out at me from the middle of the page was the glorious and glowing face of a truly beautiful young woman. She was smiling, and the wattage of that smile would have put PECO to shame. And while the photo was beautiful, the story beneath it was heart-breaking. Jamie Brooke Lieberman died yesterday after battling inflammatory breast cancer for a number of years. They didn’t say how long she lived with the disease, but you got the idea it was a very long time.
After I got over the sock-in-the-gut feeling that such a beautiful young woman was gone, I read the snippets of her life that were squeezed into the nine or so inches of print. A life summarized in less than one column is hardly enough, but it does give you a feeling for the humanity of the person. Jamie was, in addition to being beautiful, brilliant. She had a Masters from Columbia. Jamie was loving. She worked with pediatric cancer patients. Jamie was athletic. She completed the 2004 New York Marathon. And she was obviously, and deeply, loved. Those left to mourn are her fiancé, her parents, her brother, her grandparents, and friends. They would probably have needed a lot more than nine inches to list those friends.
I can’t explain why I was so particularly touched by this obituary. Yes, it has something to do with the fact that a young woman who was robbed of her future made such a wonderful masterpiece of the present. It also has to do with that haunting smile, that couldn’t be extinguished even in death. I suppose it really has to do with the fact that I am becoming more and more attuned to the passage of time, and the very real probability that those I love will not be around forever.
As trite as it sounds, life is precious. Treasure it.