We shouldn’t obsess on death, it’s true. Yet when someone dies – either someone in our own lives, or a well known public figure – we should spend some time considering the significance. Death can tell us a lot about how we should live. I didn’t know much about Paul Walker – I’m the worst excuse for a celebrity groupie - yet I think we can learn a lot from his life and especially his death.
There are five things about his death that should cause us to pause and to think deeply:
- He was young – just 40 years old
- He was famous, or as some like to say, larger than life
- His death was sudden
- His death was random
- The cause of his death – a car accident – is a common one
When ever someone dies it’s almost instinctive in our minds that we rationalize why it can’t happen to us. The scary part about the death of Paul Walker is that it really can happen to any of us. The fact that he was so young (aren’t we supposed to be living into our 90s these days?) and had “everything to live for” didn’t prevent it from happening.
Please reflect on this for a few moments:
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:13-14
That was written nearly 2,000 years ago. Nothing about it is any less true today than it was then.
If the rich and famous can die, so can we – and we will
Our culture doesn’t like to think too much about death. That’s understandable. But at some level, where the conscious mind doesn’t go, there’s a notion that if you are rich enough, smart enough, powerful enough, beautiful enough – or a star – you’re somehow immortal.
Rest assured, that no one is immortal, no matter how many or how much of those qualities they have.
There was an ironic exchange at the end of the movie La Bamba. Ritchie Valens, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, had a deathly fear of flying. But after playing a concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, he had the option of flying out of a massive snowstorm, or taking an unheated tour bus.
There were four celebrities who played the concert – Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”), Tommy Allsup, and Ritchie – but room enough on the plane for only three of them. A coin toss decided who would go, and who would ride the bus. Tommy Allsup “lost” the coin toss that ultimately saved his life.
Just before takeoff, Buddy Holly is rumored to have said – addressing Ritchie’s fear of flying – “we’re stars, and stars don’t fall from the sky.”
I suspect that line was artistic license taken by the producers of the movie – no one knows what was said, since all occupants of the plane were killed when it crashed shortly after takeoff. But the message is clear – “stars” CAN fall from the sky – at least human stars can.
Paul Walker’s life was no more important than that of people of lower popular stature. It’s just that we tend to assume that famous people are immune to everyday troubles. The fact that they aren’t is what we really need to take away from the tragedy of his death.
You’ve got no contract with life
There is significant interest in the increase in life spans in the past 100 years. Since the average life expectancy has increased from something less than 50 in 1900, to something around 78 today, we assume that that number will always increase. We watch it almost like it’s a spectator sport.
We hold out hope that medical science will hatch some technology that will enable us all to live past 100, or even science fiction-like ages of 150 or more. Personally, I doubt it. Even if it does happen it won’t come in time to be relevant in the lives of anyone alive today. I’m also the opinion that it is been the increase in living standards – far more than improvements in medical technology – that have been responsible for most of the increase in the average lifespan.
While we sit around and bow down to the god of medical technology, we underestimate the importance of clean, running water, central heat and refrigeration, that keep people from becoming deathly ill in the first place. Either way, the best medical technology in the world could not have saved Paul Walker – or anyone else – from the effects of a sudden, severe car crash.
The point is, we have no contract with life – not you, not me, not anyone. That fact more than anything else is what should impress us about anyone’s death. It should create an urgency to live the best life we can within the scope of the time, limitations, abilities, resources, and social connections that we have. And we all have them.
What ever is wrong with your life, fix it, learn to live with it – and then move on
A lot of people are dealing with chronic problems in life. There are some that can be fixed, and some that can’t. I have sympathy for anyone with chronic problems that can’t be fixed, but it also needs to be pointed out that we live in a culture where victimhood has become some sort of a perverted virtue. We park our lives on the bad things that happened – often many years ago – and never move beyond it. That’s a tragic waste of your life, or anyone else‘s.
For better or for worse, we all have problems and we always will. This isn’t utopia, it’s real life. Life isn’t problem-free, and I suspect it wasn’t meant to be. It’s worth noting that the degree to which anyone achieves any level of success or happiness is directly tied to their ability to overcome the problems they face in life.
It’s not that successful and happy people don’t have problems, it’s just that they find ways to overcome them, or at least minimize the impact on their lives.
No matter what problems we face, we have only a finite amount of time to live our lives. There is no percentage in camping out on your problems. Whatever is wrong with your life, the objective should be to fix it – or learn to live with it if it can’t be fixed – and then to move on to better things. The most morbid course we can take is to allow our troubles to rule our lives.
Our lives will become whatever it is we’re focusing on. If we focus on the negatives, the outcome will be a negative life. But if we focus on the positives – and everyone has them in their lives – we take tangible steps toward building a positive life.
Here is another verse worth pondering for a spell:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” – Matthew 6:25-27
Please think long and hard about the bolded text. What is your plan for the limited amount of time that you have in this world?
What ever you’ve been planning to do in your life, do it now!
Recognizing that you have only a limited amount time in life, one of the most important things you can do in that time is to do the things you’ve been planning to do. If you are suffering through a job or career that you don’t like, begin transitioning out now. If you would like to rebuild a broken relationship, do it now. If you have always planned to do a certain kind of mission work, do it now. If you have ever thought about “getting right with God”, right now is the time.
As we discovered with the death of Paul Walker – in case we’ve forgotten previous examples – we don’t always have tomorrow. And we can never assume that we will have 80 or 90 or 100 years to do all that we want to do in life. Stop planning for some day – like retirement, as is the popular trend these day. Someday is another way of saying never.
This is the carpe diem idea – seize the day – and putting it into action in your life. Most of us will never become rich and famous – and that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we can all live better lives and have a more positive impact on the lives of others people who we are interacting with right now.
The clock of life doesn’t start running at some point in the future when we’re ready for it – it’s already running now!
Do you ever think of death – particularly that of a celebrity – as a sign to get on with your own life?