I woke up today to a private message from my best friend: BJ Hannigan died yesterday in a plane crash.
He was 24 years old.
It was yesterday when I opened up my internet browser and instantly went to the Portland Press Herald where a Most Read news headline caught my eye: Two UMaine students, alumnus died in Owls Head plane crash
I cringed at the thought of a plane crash and decided not to click the link as I continued my search. Then this morning I read the one line in my inbox. A kid my age. A kid I graduated with from high school. A kid who I’m sure had so much love for life as I do. I was lost for words.
Although I’ve read many news articles about young people dying, it only rarely leaves a mark. I don’t know if it’s because I want to distance myself from the reality of how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away, or if I’m simply that wrapped up in my own world to really stop to think about each individual life lost. Or maybe it’s a mix of the both.
But then when it’s someone you know, it’s like you hit a wall.
It’s the littlest thing that can change how an entire series of events will take place: if that truck hadn’t been parked there or if you’d gone to the doctor when you first started experiencing symptoms. But these events play out the way they do, and so does whether we live till or die when we’re 14 or 96.
It’s not a matter of dying — we all die eventually. It’s simply the fact that most of us forget that. We get wrapped up in our own daily lives, the drama of work and relationships, and we forget that a simple step too soon into the street could mean the end of our life on earth. It’s a hard thought to deal with and I can’t imagine most people even give it two seconds thought.
Then there’s the more powerful reality of how many people struggle on a daily basis with life and death. It’s not something they’re able to forget about when everyday they wake up not knowing if they’ll be fed, find water, or have to wait yet another day.
Growing up in the middle class world, it’s never been an issue for me to find food, clean water, and I’ve always had a place to sleep. Meeting people who have to face this as their reality is – to be honest – hard for me to understand, hard for me to stomach, and hard for me not to think about constantly now.
After hearing three powerful stories this past weekend about different circumstances of individuals fighting for their basic needs day to day made me want to become more involved, made me want to give back the little free time I have in order to hopefully make just one small difference for someone. Which is why I’m going to become involved in my community with the refugees who have found their way to Spain — who have found their way to the community center and are taking steps forward to change their day to day lives. From San Sebastian it’s all I can do for now and hopefully make people aware in my community of the lives that surround them.
So whether it’s the loss of a loved one, young or old, or the powerful and sad stories you hear of the world around you — take a minute to appreciate everything you have; to say i love you to your loved ones; or a thank you to whomever has helped you put a roof over your head, food on the table, and clean drinking water in your cup.
*There will be a memorial service for all three men the week of Nov. 25 at the University of Maine Orono where all attended university.