by Jen Lynds
When seniors graduate from high school, commencement speakers usually stress the importance of the lessons they learned over their first 17 or 18 years.
I think most people would agree that they are valuable. But are they the most important? Not always.
I think that is because it takes time for lessons to sink in, and the impact of them on our psyches changes as we age.
I remember reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the first time when I was 14-years-old, a freshman in high school. Back then, my classmates and I absorbed its lessons about how love builds and hate destroys.
But when I read it again in college, for a class composed primarily of nontraditional students in their 40’s and 50’s, the conversation was different.
We discussed the impact of losing control and perspective. The picture might have been different, we thought, if Romeo had kept his temper and not killed Tybalt. We felt that the teenagers’ loss of perspective didn’t allow them to realize that their relationship might have looked differently to them and to their families in another year or two. And if there was more talking and less secrecy, we were confident that there would have been a better ending to the story..
I was reminded of that today, when word began circulating about the death of Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Henderson. The 33-year-old Houlton native, a member of U.S. Army A Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, died Tuesday at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from wounds from an improvised explosive device.
I did not know Aaron well, but all of my encounters with him were positive. He graduated from a neighboring high school a year after my own graduation, and he and his older brother Sam were talented athletes. Raised in a family of deep faith, he was kind and had a sense of humor. Whenever I saw him, he was smiling.
Obviously dedicated to his country, he was a Green Beret who had served several deployments.
As area residents try and support the family and wait to learn how to pay their respects, many people who knew Aaron took to Facebook to express their grief. A number of them penned urgent reminders about telling people how much they mean to you whenever possible, because you never know how much time you have left to say it.
When I think about the many painful lessons in life, I think that the most heartbreaking one is that you just never know how much time you will have with the ones you love.
It is a shocking reality in a world where we are governed by time. When we are young, we spend a set number of hours at school. We have a certain number of minutes to complete tests. We have to get to work or school or appointments at a certain time. We usually spend 40 hours a week on the job.
But that is it.
There are no guarantees about how many people will be around our Christmas trees each year. We don’t know when the hug that we give to a friend will be the last one we ever offer. We don’t know how many classmates won’t be there at the next reunion.
In Biology class in high school, we learned how tough our bones are, the strength of our heart and lungs. But that information doesn’t help us when we struggle to cope with the fact that someone’s body gave out long before it should have.
We harvest anger or disbelief when we hear tales of murderers who lived to be 80 years old in prison. And we deal with similar emotions when a 33 year old soldier dies in defense of his country, all the while thinking he wasn’t doing anything that special.
I am now 20 years older than I was when I read Romeo and Juliet in high school. Today, I realized what I would tell that teenage girl reading Shakespeare if I could go back in time.
I’d let her know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy for a human is 78.5 years.
And then I would remind her that some people won’t get that long, no matter how hard she hopes and prays that they will.
But at the same time, I’d say that while you aren’t guaranteed a great job or an expensive car or even a home to live in in this life, the one gift that you get immediately is time.
Aaron Henderson did not get as much time as he deserved.
But his life was an example of one well lived.
In the end, that is what we will remember.