My friend Dave Connors was 25 when he died of complications from heart surgery. For as long as I knew Dave, he was hampered by physical ailments, but I never sensed he was in any serious danger—even when his condition became grave. Dave was one of those even-tempered people who never got too high or too low.
Dave almost died when he was 22. He had a defibrillator (much like the one Vice-President Cheney has) attached to his heart and it gave him a few more good years. That was a wake up call for me. Suddenly my friend, my young friend, could die.
Until his life was threatened by his illness, I had wasted a real opportunity to get to know Dave. It didn’t seem possible that someone my own age could die. Fortunately for me, Dave didn’t die and I treasure the memory of the next three years that I had with him. The shock of his death came just as I thought he was looking healthier and stronger. He seemed like he was at the top of his game.
I was reminded of this young life this summer when St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead from a blocked coronary artery at the age of 33. Like Dave, Kile always gave credit to his friends for his successes. I imagine many of Kile’s young teammates were now feeling some of the same emotions that I felt when Dave died.
“Why would God take someone so young?” “I wish I just had five minutes to tell him what he meant to me.” “He was in pretty good shape recently; how could this happen?”
Kile’s death has had a remarkable effect on the team. They vowed to never forget their teammate and to make sure that his memory would be infused in them for the remainder of the season. When the Cardinals defeated the defending world champion Arizona Diamondbacks, Kile’s jersey was carried out on the field and into the locker room for the celebration.
As with Kile, my friend Dave’s death had rallied his friends too. We became far more sensitive to the needs of others. When one of us got down, another picked him up. We became as strong and as inspiring as Dave had been for us and for himself. We couldn’t and wouldn’t let the life-lessons that Dave taught us turn into fear, anger, resentment, and lethargy. Instead we reached out in support of each other, Dave’s family, and the community around us. The bonds between us grew stronger, so strong that we were able to reach beyond ourselves and we established a fund for our college EMS team.
As a Catholic, I believe that while suffering is clearly not a good thing, it doesn’t have to be paralyzing. When we find the savior, our savior hanging on a tree, we become sad, scared, and dejected. But we know that Easter changes all that. The resurrection of Christ transforms death into life, horror into joy, defeat into victory. Death somehow doesn’t seem so scary knowing that God went through it too.
And that lesson needs to carry over into our own “personal crucifixions” as well. Tragedy doesn’t have to defeat us, but it can transform us into something better, something wounded but now stronger because of living through that pain. We are like children who have fallen when learning to walk, and God’s loving hands pick us up, steady us, and move us forward to walk again—this time with more knowledge, strength, and resolve to deal with the horrors that will undoubtedly haunt us another day.
Thanks Dave, for giving me that inspiration with your life. I hope you and Darryl Kile can share a beer sometime. You guys have a lot in common.
Editors note: Darryl Kile’s family has designated Cardinals Care as their charity of choice. If you wish to make a donation in his name the address is:
250 Stadium Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63102