Let’s celebrate those we’ve lost by living passionately alive.
“Death is the destiny of everyone; and the living must take this to heart.” Ecclesiastes
As an awkward St. Louis University freshman, with few friends on campus and little idea who I really was, where I fit in, how to act, or what to major in, I met someone who positively changed my life.
Mark Haberberger was so vibrantly alive, charismatic and joyful I wanted to be just like him. In fact, I pledged Phi Kappa Theta fraternity because Mark was in it. I majored in Finance and Information Technology because Mark said it would lead to a good job. I spent the majority of every afternoon in the quad because Mark took up residence there and his magnetic personality attracted everyone to join him.
In addition to being gregarious, Mark was also selfless. Knowing I loved St. Louis Cardinals baseball, he took me to Ozzie Smith’s final game. Knowing I loved the St. Louis Blues, he invited me to the game where Brett Hull would score his 500th goal. Knowing I had nothing to do on Valentine’s Day, Mark insisted I get out of the dorm room, join a bunch of friends out, and toast collectively to our love of life.
Mark’s smile lit up entire rooms, his energetic demeanor made everyone near him feel as if they were the most important person in the world and his exuberance for life made us all want to be more like him: passionately alive.
Which made the phone call on August 6, 1997 impossible to understand.
In the kitchen of my childhood home, those gathered heard me answer the phone with a courteous, “Hello.” What followed, though, grew steadily louder and more demonstrative. “What’s wrong? … Dude, slow down …. What are you talking about? …. Who told you? … Are you sure? … Are you serious? … How did it happen? …. Who else was with him? …. When? …. Where did it happen? … Are you sure he is really dead?”
In a dazed mix of disbelief, brokenness, anger and raw despondency, these were my first pain-filled questions after receiving the call my dear friend was involved in a late-night, single car accident.
But the question quickly shifted to a far angrier and harder to answer, “Why?!”
Why did this happen? Why was he driving? Why would the most joyful, vibrant person any of us knew pass away at age 21? And why would God allow this to happen?
I’ve been hearing the question “Why” a lot over the past few days as we wrestle with another profoundly painful loss in our community.
A soccer teammate of my oldest son, Jack, was involved in a fatal, single car accident last weekend. Cole Anello, Rhegan Sajben, and Jacob Keifer all passed away in this accident. Two other passengers were severely injured. The sadness can be felt far beyond the schools where these young people attended.
And the question many are asking is a reasonable one: Why?
The righteous anger, suffocating heartache and agonizing grief demanding the answer to why forces us to pause our lives, take inventory on where we are and reassess what matters most.
Mark’s death challenged all of us to recognize that if the most vibrantly alive person any of us knew could pass away, then none of us were as invincible as previously thought.
If a few seemingly inconsequential decisions could lead to an accident that would change all of our lives, then we should be far more intentional in our lives than we’d been.
If we were all transformed positively through the goodness, kindness and joyfulness of one young man, then we should strive to do likewise through our lives for others.
And if the previous goal had been to merely get through college in order to secure some job, we should aim much higher, shine brighter, and strive to be used for something truly good, meaningful, lasting.
Following Mark’s death there was an agonizing season of profound sadness, doubt, darkness and unanswerable questions. Enduring it required us to grieve in our own ways, lean into others, cry often, ask for help, pray for strength, and somehow keep moving forward when it was often the last thing any of us wanted to do.
In time, though, came an unexpected season of renewal. This period led to a far greater engagement in faith, developed far deeper friendships, lead to greater involvement in the community and a desired boldness to live well.
While alive, Mark revealed what living inspired looked like in action. His death taught us to stop merely observing it in someone else and start living it ourselves.
Knowing that tomorrow is not promised, let’s actively, vibrantly, faithfully and joyfully live this day. And let’s keep those enduring heartache this day both in our prayers and memorialize them through the manner in which we lead our lives.
This is your day. Live Inspired.