Before tragedy finds you, seize the day

In the wake of a tragedy, people sometimes stop to reflect on their lives and think about the things that they could have done or could do differently.  That period of reflection often lasts anywhere from the length of a commercial break to as long as it takes to attend a funeral.

That isn’t to say people are uncompassionate or self-centered.  What it does say is that our busy lives slowly creep back in, until we are so distracted by the little things that we’ve forgotten the reflections we had in our temporarily vulnerable state.

For Americans, those moments of reflection often prompt charity.  Americans donated millions of dollars via text message in the first day after Red Cross announced its relief campaign for Haiti.  Within four days, the total donations from the American public and our nation’s corporations were $23 million.  Today, Americans are finding themselves again reaching across the world to offer aid to Japan and countries in the Middle East.

And when the tragedy is in our own community, similar charity results.  Last year, when a plane crash killed all four crewmembers aboard a C-17, the community both off and on Elmendorf Air Force Base came together to help the families by donating time, money and food, as well as other things.  Many stopped by the vigil at the air show to reflect on what happened, and to pay their respects.

But before long it’s back to the grind, and long forgotten is the reason why we cared so much in the first place.

Of course, there are times that tragedy hits much closer to home and it seems impossible to move on. Finding a way to move on from a tragedy, while still retaining the lessons that it has taught is among the most difficult challenges we face as humans.  Each tragedy certainly has something to teach us, but perhaps the single biggest lesson we can learn is to seize the day that we have before us.

Carpe Diem is Latin phrase meaning literally “seize the day,” and though it has permeated our popular culture, it often fails to do so in our daily living. The phrase was first used by the Roman poet Horace, who encouraged those of his time by writing: “Whether Jupiter has allotted to you many more winters or this final one… seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.”

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Since we can never predict when we might be the victims of tragedy ourselves, we should heed the words of Horace and make the best use of our time as we have it.

And to avoid the melancholy that could potentially catch us in old age, we must avoid the lethargy that threatens to catch us today.  Hopefully, when we are old and grey, we will have lived lives that can be looked back upon with pride and contentment.

Do something worth remembering each day. Maintain the relationships you have with your loved ones – call the relative you’ve been meaning to, but just haven’t had the time to, sooner rather than later.  Volunteer at the charity that appeals to you at your most basic human level.

Do it.  Be it.  Live it.  There is no time to waste. We only get one ride folks.