It still is shocking, leaving me to shake my head every time the topic crosses back through my mind.
You’re never quite prepared for the text message that one of your co-workers had unexpectedly passed away.
Yet that’s how I kicked started my vacation and Ironman week — with the news of the death of Bob Summers, a copy editor and sports writer at The Buffalo News.
According to the story in Monday’s paper, Bob had a heart attack at the Niagara Seneca Casino after finishing his editing shift on Saturday night. Going to the casino was something Bob would do from time to time after his night shifts. He covered horse racing for the paper and enjoyed gambling not, as his daughter noted in the obituary, for financial gain but to play with the mathematical formulas.
And that’s why in the sadness and shock there was a bit of a smile. Bob was doing something he loved, something he enjoyed. Somehow, simultaneously, there is something comforting and sobering in that.
Bob was a great storyteller, someone who would from time to time tell me stories of our mutual alma mater (St. Bonaventure) and what it was like back when he was an undergraduate in the 1960s. He would talk about his days at the now defunct Buffalo Courier-Express and about life at The Buffalo News long before my time in newspapers began.
But even more than the stories, I remember Bob doing things he loved and having a good sense of humor.
That’s what has stayed with me over the last few days.
It’s cliche, yet continues to be true: When people we know pass away, it usually gives us pause to consider our own life lessons. Almost all of us have at least a moment when we remember the adage that life is short, that all moments are precious.
Life can move by rather quickly. And we never do know how much time we have — with life, with loved ones, with jobs, with family.
But from another point of view, for those of us fortunate, our life is comprised of many years, thousands of moments and an indeterminate number of choices. Bob was 66 and by today’s standards, that’s pretty young. (Although no matter how young or old someone is, it never quite makes it any easier.) But from what I know of Bob, he probably enjoyed the majority of those moments over that time. If nothing else, they gave him great stories to tell which were vivid and entertaining with sprinklings of humor for good measure.
How do we want to spend our years?
How do we want to feel in those moments?
What are we going to choose today?
It’s one wild and precious life. What are you going to do with it?
Me? I’m going to do what I love.
This week, living that adage for me includes travel, love, friends, competition, strength, endurance, health and activity. That’s what the adventure of the Iron Distance race in Montreal holds for me. I’ll think about Bob at some point this week and smile. Do what you love. Because when you do not only will have enjoyment and fun and love in return, you’ll have plenty of stories to tell of a life well-lived and acutely observed.
That’s the lesson I seemed to have learned from Bob. And I am the richer for it.