Twenty years ago today, my son Benjamin was born and died. I mourn him today, yet my thoughts are focused elsewhere. My friend Mark Irons passed away early this morning from complications related to Cystic Fibrosis.
I’ve already posted some memories of Mark, but his passing has made me think more deeply about his life, death, and impact on others, as well as life in general. I’m sure that somewhere he’s smiling that he’s still making me think.
I am in no way a country music fan (and, indeed, some country music fans may disavow the song as “crossover”), but there’s a song by Tim McGraw called “Live Like You Were Dying.” The song was written to honor his father, former Mets and Phillies relief pitcher Tug McGraw, who died in 2004 from a brain tumor. I sometimes use the song to try to prod myself to remember that there’s no time like the present. Mark didn’t need that. He did that every day. Knowing that each day was precious helped him to be more alive than everybody else.
I find myself regretting not spending more time talking with Mark and learning from him. I can see him, as if he lived in ancient times, standing in a clearing on a hilltop, sharing his wisdom with transfixed students sitting as his feet. I feel awful for allowing us to fall out of touch with one another over the years, despite the fact that we thought of him often.
That gap in contact is truly my loss.
As the end neared, Mark even made sure to reach out to many who hadn’t contacted him in recent years to let them know that he was going to be OK and they shouldn’t worry about him. Even in his last days, he wanted to make sure everyone else was OK and that they didn’t feel regret at not having been in touch for a while. His concern about the those he cared about was at the core of his being. In my case, I’m extremely grateful that we were able to visit Mark in late August to see him one last time.
I was thinking about Mark donating his body to CF research and wondered what they could learn from the body of a man who lived for 46 years when his life expectancy at birth was 10 years. Was it how he ate? An unusual balance in his body chemistry? And then I came to the conclusion that Mark’s relatively long life was probably not due to anything physical, but more a mental/emotional/spiritual thing.
Here’s my theory: So many people “fight” diseases. Fighting is always messy and exhausts the participants. Mark didn’t fight CF. He embraced it, accepted it as part of his being, accepted the limitations as part of what his life was, and moved on. In doing so, it released much of the pressure, and wore him down less. I liken it to how hurricanes snap oak tree trunks, but palm trees–which bend in the wind instead of remaining rigid–survive the onslaught. Did Mark survive so long because he simply accepted the CF as part of life and didn’t rage against it?
I think there are messages in there for all of us. There will be obstacles that rise up in our path, some more severe or dangerous than others. If we bend with it like the palm instead of standing fast like the oak, perhaps we can more easily weather the storm. And even though we don’t have to be dying ourselves, there’s no reason not to live like it.
Be curious. Explore. Discover. Thirst for knowledge.
Do something spontaneous. Have an adventure.
Create. Think deeply.
Share what you believe. Follow what you believe.
Help others. Have an impact on the world.
On Mark’s website, he has a page about death. Amid posting his advanced care directives and musing about death, euthanasia, and what to do with his body when he passes, Mark notes “As for memorial services, gatherings, wakes, or stones, do what you need. I’d prefer a party, but there’s no need to please me.” Mark was an avid kite flyer. I think that maybe I’ll go fly a kite this weekend. Maybe we’ll even make a party of it.