There are certain events in life where you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you got the news. Like when the spaceship challenger broke up, or when 9/11 happened.
I remember exactly where I was, what the room looked like, and what I felt the moment when I heard the news.
I had one of those moments last week.
I was driving down the Hole in the Rock Road in Utah to meet up with some friends for a night of camping when I checked my phone. There was enough cell reception to get the latest feeds on facebook.
What popped up was this, “3 Teton Valley Men Killed in Plane Crash” news headline a friend had posted.
I took a large swallow and my heart began to race.
After living there for 2 winters and being a part of the NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) community for almost 20 years – many of them live there. There was a good chance I knew these people.
I read the next post from Molly, “With a broken heart, my husband Andy has died in a plane crash. Please love your sweetie and tell them how much they mean to you tonight.”
I broke into tears. How could this be?
Then I read the next post. AJ, husband of my friend Erica, also perished.
NO. NO. NO. Is all my head and heart could say. “This isn’t fair. This isn’t right. They’re too young. They have too much to live for. They can’t be gone.”
We all “grew up” at NOLS together starting in the 90’s, refining our mountaineering skills and leading courses around the world. We’d run into each other in Patagonia, or India, or on Denali and say a hello and give a “be well on your trip” to each other.
After all that, how could they die in a plane crash?
Then my heart went to their wives, close friends, and family. I couldn’t imagine the loss and heartbreak they were and are experiencing. Sometimes I wonder if my heart was and is breaking more for those left behind then for those that are gone, or perhaps both in a different way.
I left little memorials each day as I ventured into the canyon country… a rock here, and stick there. I thought, “Andy won’t be able to see this place again.” Or as I was in the shower, “AJ won’t feel the absolute joy of feeling hot water on his skin again.”
If there is a silver lining in this, it’s helping me have even more gratitude and love for this life. For each moment, each struggle, each joy, each interaction, each sunset, each challenge because I have the opportunity to experience it. I don’t know when life will be gone.
They kissed there wives goodbye in the morning and didn’t get to return home that night. I can live my life in more gratitude knowing this. And take every step and opportunity that speaks to me along the way, leaving nothing left unturned.
What I’ve watched unfold in their community and the greater NOLS community from this is an outpouring of love and support from “gofund” sites for Erica and Molly to financially support them through this loss, to a memorial fund in AJ and Andy’s names to create community projects and bike trails in Teton Valley.
There were over 600 people at their vigil 2 days after they passed. That speaks volumes to the people they were and the lives they touched. The other two who perished in the crash I did not know, but from what I’ve learned, they were equally as loved.
As Molly said, tell the people you love that you love them. Stop holding back as you don’t know when you won’t be able to any more. Find gratitude in the small things like taking a shower and walking to the coffee shop.
If not for yourself, do it for Andy and AJ who can’t anymore. Perhaps they are now a part of the stars, the waterfalls, the wind, and the sun…
Please share in the comments below how loss has opened up your heart or taught you to live life more fully – we can all benefit.
Categories: Heart Centered Living