No one likes to hear that someone they know or care for has passed away. Deaths that are expected are still difficult. Even worse are those that result from senseless accidents. Today marks three years since Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris disappeared into the Atlantic. 228 people disappeared from our lives. Just like that. Some people lost family. Some of us lost friends.
It is almost impossible for me to remember my friend Ceren without being overcome with sadness. Sadness that such a beautiful person should die so young. Sadness that I didn’t write to her when I thought about her. Sadness for her family. Sadness for her closer friends. All too many of my friends and colleagues have experienced this kind of loss. Only three years earlier five talented opera singers from Indiana University, colleagues and friends of friends, also died in a plane crash. All of these people have left us with an enormous gift – the memory of our times with them and the memory of their existence.
I believe the memories we have been left with serve not to remind us of what and whom we have lost, but what we have remaining! We can be sad, of course, and should not forget how lucky we were to have any time at all with these people. What would they say to us now if they could? Live life. Cherish every moment. It seems trite to say such things, but these ideas are so critical to fulfilling our purpose.
When you care about someone or love them, these sentiments should be shared and celebrated, not kept hidden and run away from. What an amazing feeling it is to care about someone, to know that their presence in the world alone makes your life a better one. To be able to smile just because you know that someone exists is like nothing else. Telling people isn’t enough. We should show them through our actions. And shouldn’t we spread these feelings of understanding and acceptance to the other people around us as well? The complete strangers who we encounter in daily life… People we know and people we don’t know are dying every day. They are dying of cancer and starvation. They’re being massacred for their religious and political beliefs and being killed by suicide bombers for daring to protect those who speak up. They’re having their heads cut off so that some lost kid can join a gang in Mexico or having their face eaten off on the side of a highway by someone with no soul.
How can we be aware of all of this senseless violence and continue to walk down the street and not acknowledge the people we walk by? Is it not offensive and a dishonor to the memories of those lost? Would it kill us to accept the people around us for who they are, whether or not we know them? Simply acknowledging someone with a smile or a “how are you?” when they walk by could be the difference between that person going to a bar to drink their life away or going home to spend time with their children. And at the end of the day isn’t that what matters?
It is up to the people we love and the people we don’t know to do what they want with the feelings we share with them. Even though that part is out of our control, at least it allows us to live without regret. When our souls leave this earth, what matters is not how much money we made, what God we worshipped, or what clothes we wore. It is how we treated others and the impact we made in their lives. Not everyone will find a cure for cancer or sacrifice their life to save children in the Sudan, but even the love, smiles, acceptance, and lack of judgment we give to the people around us make a difference. It is our duty to mankind. It is the lesson we MUST learn. Tell your friends that you love them. Smile at strangers. Stop judging people who are different.
In loving memory of Fatma Ceren Necipoğlu – talented harpist and beautiful soul (18 January 1972 - 1 June 2009)