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Some bad news last Saturday.

There was a trip, an exploration, that went awry.

Seven people didn’t come back from that trip.

We don’t know what caused the accident.  We may never know for sure.

We do know that their deaths came as a complete shock out of a clear blue sky.  We know that those around them will never be the same.

A nation is in mourning.

These were our best and brightest, these were our future.  These were the vessels into which mothers and fathers poured their hope and their love.

And with a roar, they went from life to afterlife, buried under millions of tons of snow, a cold and horrible fate to contemplate.

I’m not talking about the space shuttle.  I’m talking about the accident that occurred in a snowy mountain valley in British Columbia last Saturday morning.

A high school group was on a weekend ski trip. They set out with 14 students and 3 instructors, when an massive avalanche came down the slope on the opposite side of the valley with enough force that it actually continued up the opposite slope and buried all 17 of them. Nearby skiers-turned-rescuers dug some of the people out, and all survivors participated in a rescue operation that saved 10 of the group; 7 students did not survive.

Death happens.  It is around us.  Sometimes we pass it on the freeway.  Sometimes we feel it approaching and we hold its hand, and feel Life moving aside to let Death in. We write stories about it, watch it on T.V. We plan for it, dread it, ignore it, curse it.

If you are reading this column and live in the U.S., I’m certain you did not hear about these seven Canadian students, teenagers who went to the same high school I did.  Students, in fact, who were on the very same kind of outdoor adventure that I did every month when I was that age.

You had your own grief, your own news.  And I’m certain that elsewhere in the world, another seven died, and another, and another.  And they are being mourned by their own friends, families, communities.

Death is tragic, yes, but to me, it’s also comforting.  Death is universal, it affects us all, it is egalitarian, it is our strongest bond as thinking beings.  It is how we first became human.

I might not understand what it’s like to live in each different country in the world.  I don’t know what life is like to someone who can’t read or who can’t walk.  I won’t ever give birth to a baby, and attempts to explain the experience to me will certainly fall short of the truth.

But I share with you and everyone else on earth the experience of loss and pain when Death happens, and in that fact, lies our shared humanity.  Because in the end, I believe everyone who reads about these accidents shares the sense of loss, feels compassion for the survivors, and has the same questions echoing in their quiet thoughts about cause and consequence.

And I hope that we can all share one common comfort as well—that these deaths, no matter how painful and sad, have also brought us, the living, together.

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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