This wasn't the post I intended to write for the week, but darn it if death doesn't trump product review every time.
Death came to my my beloved 97-year-old grandfather on Friday. Most grandfathers are, as their title implies, grand. But Victor Hearon Douglass was extraordinary. He really knew how to live. And for him, living meant moving on an upward trajectory. Maybe that "live ethic" was a product of the times. He came of age during the Depression and was a member of the legendary Civilian Conservation Corps. He helped build highways, bridges and national parks, and with that experience he built the structure most important to me: his home on Floyd Way, where he raised his family. Those are a few of the tangible legacies he left. The intangible include getting his pilot's license, getting his college degree at 79, then his master's degree at 82. He loved English literature, especially poetry and was always reciting Wordsworth, Blake and Browning... "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be..." He said his goal was always to be on an upward bound direction; trying to take advantage of opportunities for improvement. One of my favorite stories--oh, and there are so many I wish I could share--came just four years ago. And you'll love this one with me, I'm sure: he fell off his bike. At 93 years old, he just wanted to see if he could still ride. Short story is, he couldn't. He ended up in the hospital and his children were not happy with him (gotta love that payback) but I couldn't blame him for trying and a part of me was glad he did.
If Chris Hipp had lived to be 97, I'm certain he would have gotten on his bike for a ride at that ripe old age. Sadly, Chris died last week too. But he was only 47. I knew Chris from when we both lived in Dallas. He was a hardcore cyclist. I didn't know him very well--I don't think too many did by his design--but he was part of the runner/cyclist/triathlete kingdom that ruled White Rock Lake. And, for the last 15 years he was in a relationship with one of the nicest women I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, a woman I'd consider one of my triathlon mentors. Chris was a character--his intensity on the bike resulted in the most road rash I've ever seen on one human being. He was notorious for mixing it up: other cyclists, cars, small animals--he even got in a punching match with a motorist. I loved that he was defending all of us who ride. Share the road! Chris, was still racing and doing quite well up to his death. He combined talent with passion and fearlessness. Like my granddad, Chris excelled diversely. I knew he was a computer nerd, but evidently he was the kind of computer nerd that the New York Times takes note of. He, too, lived his life in an upward bound direction and leaves legacies, both tangible and intangible.
I believe you can have a good death so long as you meet two criteria: A good life, which you can have even when it's short, and a grand exit. When I first learned of Chris' death I half expected to hear he had been in an accident. But no. He was on his bike, yes, but he collapsed and died, perhaps from an aneurysm. But anyone who knew him would say that being on his bike would be the way he'd want to ride to that "great finish line in the sky." As for my granddad, he died at home with the dignity he so deserved, surrounded by his family, the people he considered his biggest contribution in life. These deaths couldn't have been scripted any better.
Sure, all this dying makes me sad, but it also makes me take note of how I'm living, the contributions I'm making, the legacies I'm leaving. When great people go, you can't help but do some self-evaluation. Which brings me to something I heard about the passing of Walter Conkrite from Diane Sawyer, which sums up how I'm feeling: "You miss these people who stand above the horizon a little and remind you where to look."