It was a sad, somber Sunday afternoon for me as it was for millions of Americans. The news of Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash came out of the blue, as deaths caused by accident always do.
Even though I live in quiet Amish country, I could feel the collective grief of the millions of people who had been thrilled, touched, and inspired by Kobe’s awesome achievements as one of the greatest basketball players ever. For an American sports legend’s life to be snuffed out at an early age is both jarring and haunting. It isn’t supposed to happen!
As a sports icon, Kobe Bryant was and is larger than life. There’s an almost transcendent quality to his being. We even refer to the all-time greats in sports as “immortals.” Alas, their reputations may survive indefinitely, but as yesterday’s accident reminds us so starkly, their human selves do not. The stunning death of Kobe Bryant is a jarring reminder of the vulnerability and impermanence of human life.
I learned about Kobe’s demise almost as soon as the news was made public. I was looking at something on my iPad when a blunt, unsentimental headline popped up: “Kobe Bryant killed in helicopter crash.” The stark coldness of that black-on-white message evoked an image of Dragnet’s Joe Friday mechanically reciting his signature line, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
There’s never a “right time” to get news like that, but the announcement of Kobe’s passing came to me when I was already feeling sad about the unexpected premature deaths of two other young men—a pair of 22-year-old Americans. They were not famous, like Kobe, so their loss will affect far fewer people than Kobe’s passing, but for those who knew and loved them, their loss is every bit as sad as Kobe’s passing is for the millions who admired, idolized, and/or loved him.
One of those 22-year-olds was Clay Beathard, the brother of San Francisco 49ers reserve quarterback C.J. Beathard. Although Clay was knifed to death back on Dec. 21, the news had eluded me until shortly after noon on Sunday when I read a poignant account by ESPN Senior Writer Ian O’Connor of how Clay’s family is coping.
It’s a heart-warming story about a heart-breaking loss. Clay was a much-loved, kind-hearted youngest brother in a family of five children. His father’s forgiving spirit to his son’s murderer is a testament to a deep Christian faith. Reading about Clay, our country clearly has lost an exceptionally fine young man. At the same time, we can take strength, inspiration, and encouragement knowing that we have such special people as the Beathard family still living among us.
The other death I read about was that of Antonio Moore—more specifically Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was killed on Friday in an on-duty accident while in Syria.
Moore’s passing will receive the least attention. I’m not judging this as good or bad, but simply the way it is. He was not famous, nor did he have a famous brother. In addition, he was a soldier. For better or worse, the American public is somewhat inured to reports of servicemembers losing their lives.
Even though Antonio Moore’s passing was an accident, we know that soldiers’ lives are always at risk, and casualties happen often enough that we really aren’t shocked or surprised when we read that another of our heroic servicemembers has died in the line of duty.
Regardless of how high- or low-profile these three deaths are, they have much in common. In all three cases, there is the tragedy of lost potential and opportunities. What could each of these three young men have accomplished had they had a chance to grow to a ripe old age? The possibilities are tantalizing, but now we will never know.
For those of us in the Christian tradition, we take comfort in the conviction that a just and merciful God will be there for them on the other side.
The passing of these three young men reminds us of the randomness of accidents. Kobe Bryant and his daughter and the others on the helicopter went out on a Sunday morning to go somewhere and never made it. Clay Beathard was out having fun with some friends and happened to run into a young man who was likely angry at himself and the world, who killed him. Antonio Moore died like my father did—in a workplace accident.
Is there a lesson—some wisdom perhaps—that we can glean from these tragic random deaths? What came to my thought was the parable Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke about the prosperous man who was making long-term plans to enjoy his accumulated wealth, and then “God said to him, “You fool! Tonight you will die” (Luke 12:20,CEV).
The message I take from this is that we don’t know when we will leave this world, but it could be soon, so do what is most important without delay. If you are estranged from a loved one, patch it up now. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to tell somebody, stop procrastinating and say it. If you know you want to do something for somebody someday, do it today.
Bottom line: Human life is fragile; tomorrow is never guaranteed; live life to the fullest now; give it your best shot today; don’t squander opportunities.
RIP, Kobe, Clay, and Antonio (and the others who were with Kobe). We mourn your too-early departure from this world, but we thank you for all the good you did and all the lives you blessed while you were here.
Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.