Susan Shinn column: This just in — I miss Peter Jennings

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

I spoke to my friend Lynne this week as she was at the airport heading out to a Colorado ski trip with her kids. “Wear your helmets!” I admonished. That in response to the tragic death last week of actress Natasha Richardson for whom, in a freak ski accident in the prime of life, a bump to the head on an easy hill ended her life.
Of course, Lynne and her family will be properly helmeted. But as she was quick to remind me, that’s not the lesson at all of Richardson’s death. Neither is it a fatalism that “when it’s my time to go it’s my time to go” (though I do believe that God appoints the hour of our coming into the world, and the hour of our leaving it.)
Rather, we talked about how the lesson to the outside observer of this and similar “freak” tragedies is, or should be, that each day of our lives are a precious gift. We ought to be living in light of that truth moment by moment, knowing that in a very real sense our lives hang (I believe) by a God-given and sustained thread.
How often I lose sight of that.
It’s easy to do in our culture. Death is most typically something that happens to the elderly, or perhaps we can lay the finger of “blame” to how and why a younger person got cancer. How “relieved” we are to read in the papers that a person killed in a car accident wasn’t wearing a seatbelt because of course we always wear ours. And how often were we reminded that Richardson wasn’t wearing a helmet?
What a far cry from an oh-so-recent culture in which death in the prime of life really was so typical. In fact it wasn’t that long ago that a woman going into labor prepared for her or her child’s funeral as well as the birth, because it was so common for women and babies to die during delivery.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to bring that back. I love the advancements of the modern world, and I’m grateful for what are in the western world typical life spans up 40 years over what they were at the turn of the 20th century.
It’s just that the downside of such advancements is that they may make us think we are more invincible. Yet while the outer picture has changed, the underlying truth has not: it’s every bit as true today as it was, say, just two generations ago before the advent of antibiotics that our lives are a daily gift from God.
I don’t suggest that this should make loss of a loved one easier. Only that in noting Richardson’s death to my children ó my kids loved her in “Parent Trap” ó I didn’t give them a safety lecture about helmets, or even note that she wasn’t wearing one.
More than anything we talked about the preciousness, the gift and the fragility of life. And that the ultimate lesson here is to not take it for granted, but instead to more consciously cherish each and every day we are given.
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Betsy Hart writes for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact her through www.betsysblog.com.

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