The idea for beginning to think about the topic of death surfaced a little over a year ago while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I listened to philosophy lectures on my iPod and there was a specific lecture focused on the thoughts of Martin Heidegger that set all this in motion. He essentially said that in order to live fully, one must think about death honestly and come to terms with it. This seemed like a good idea and from that moment on, I felt that I needed to think more about it.
While I occasionally brought the topic of death up with friends over the past year, it has been lying dormant much of the time, knowing that it still needed to be adequately addressed. It is in fact one of the reasons I’m pursuing nursing at this time. I want to be in the ER or in the trauma unit where I’m seeing and experiencing life-on-the-line situations on a daily basis; I think it will make me look at life differently.
And then a couple weeks ago I received Chris’s voicemail about our good friend TJ. My jaw hung open and I couldn’t erase the blank stare from my face for much of the next three days.
TJ and I ran together at the University of Cincinnati and have been friends ever since. We have much in common and found ourselves continually challenging each other to live life fully. He spent much of the last ten years in Spain or in Boulder where he could train and live in the mountains. Everywhere he went, he went with a smile, making friends all along the way. We stayed in touch with random phone calls and the occasional visit, either in Ohio or Colorado depending on where each of us happened to be living at the moment.
TJ was hit by a car while out riding his bike a little over two weeks ago. He died the next day due to injuries he suffered. I don’t know the details of his last day and I can’t seem to understand why these details seem so important to me. He was killed in the same spot another cyclist was hit and killed North of Boulder just a few years prior to TJ’s accident.
I talked with my friends, the ones that knew TJ well too, and none of us could really make sense of it. He is the first of my friends to pass away and the fact I will never speak with him again is still hard to wrap my head around. It is also hard to comprehend because I know it could just as easily happen to me or to someone else close to me as well.
I know TJ wasn’t finished. He was an extremely talented guy and good at most everything he set his mind to. He was engaged to be married and he was doing well in his career. It is so sad to think he will not get to finish what he was working on, the life he was still building.
I am writing this and posting it to our website for two reasons: To honor my friend TJ by telling the tiny corner of the world that reads these articles about a great person that left too soon, and I’m writing to express the idea regarding death that TJ has forced me to address: there is a deadline and we don’t know when that day will be.
I think what Heidegger was getting at is that by really looking at death and coming to terms with it, one can realize that there is limited time to finish the projects one devotes one’s life to. As humans, we are beings that are constantly doing. There is something to work towards and always something to keep striving for. By coming to terms with death, it is easier to recognize that there is indeed an end point and if we as individuals care about the projects we’re working on, it’ll help us to realize we have limited time to finish, and sometimes our time is cut short.
The moral of the story for me at age 31 is to be motivated. Live harder, live fuller. I need to keep pressing the gas pedal and keep going forward. I don’t know when my deadline will be and I know I’m not finished. My Projects list is big and largely incomplete and if I truly care about the purpose I’ve created for my life, I must continue working diligently to fulfill that purpose.
I will miss you TJ. You were a good friend and one that continually pushed me to love life more. Your smile and your laugh were so powerful and I will miss you dearly. Thank you for pushing me as you always have. I will keep pushing, striving to live as fully and as richly as I possibly can because I realize now more personally than ever the finality that comes with death. TJ, thank you for being my friend and for pushing me to be a better person.