It hasn’t been the best of weeks, not when you lose three close friends to death. Seems all I did was cope with a bereaved state and wonder who else might be next.
As I advance in years, the obituary pages become must reading each day. One day my name will appear, but hopefully not for awhile. I’ve already defied the mortuary a half dozen times in my life, as recently as a year ago when I experienced a triple by-pass.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” my cardiologist told me.
In the case of my three friends, all had a happy ending. The first man succumbed doing what he enjoyed best — helping his church prepare for a picnic. You often found Mal in the kitchen surrounded by pots and pans. His favorite place was under cover, working behind the scenes. He was 88 and lived a respectable life.
Another was an 86-year-old woman who spent her time providing for the welfare of her Armenian community. Rosanne served on committees around Greater Boston with members young enough to be her children and grandchildren.
The age difference was impervious. She once told me that the best way to keep young was to hang around the younger generation. They were words to live by.
The third was my best friend from Haverhill and I shall devote a subsequent tribute to him in a later edition. Vahe was my mentor in a lot of ways, guiding me through nebulous times. We grew up together as young students, went to Boston University, belonged to the Armenian groups and finally settled in the same Haverhill community.
If you could ever script a demise, he wrote his own ticket to eternal bliss. He and his wife spent an afternoon in Rockport. They were sitting on a bench admiring the water when suddenly he complained about feeling ill.
Within moments, he slouched over and succumbed in his wife’s lap, right there in the open. It was quick and painless. The couple had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with children and grandchildren at Lake Tahoe.
“It was the best vacation I ever spent,” he told me over dinner just a week ago.
I envied the man, thinking what better way is there to exit this world than having just completed a celebrated moment with family and accomplishing everything you had set out to do.
People are born and die every day. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes we dig our own graves by abusing ourselves with detriment. A better alternative, no doubt, would be to live healthy, act healthy and surround yourself with a positive venue.
Back in my Gazette days, I used to conduct weekly interviews, polling people on the street with a question of the day. It could be current events, sports, politics, or maybe a person’s take on the Olympic Games if they were going on at that time.
The question I posed this one day caught people by surprise. “Would you want to know the day you will die?”
Surprisingly so, the opinions were divided. Those who complied felt they needed time to get their affairs in order and say their good-byes. I remember one guy telling me he would use the time to patch up old wounds and settle any outstanding debts he owed.
Others to the contrary didn’t want to know the date because they would be tormented by it throughout their remaining days. I recall one or two telling me that if we were to expire, God would notify us on his own terms.
On that account, I remind myself that every day is a blessing and that life is both a privilege and a blessing. And much too often, we take it for granted.
What bothers me are people who wile away their existence and have nothing to show for it. A good person will leave behind some sort of legacy and be remembered for making the world a better place.
What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others lives on. I prefer the latter. I’d like to be remembered in a favorable way.
Just recently, I did a story for the ethnic papers on the most productive 90-year-old Armenians in America. I kept the list to 10 and went coast-to-coach with my search. What I found was truly remarkable.
One guy was still flying airplanes. Another was conducting a church choir. A third man was still into patents and inventions, dwelling a bit on the flexible straw he had invented that’s now universal. Others were practicing dentistry, writing books and supporting charity with their philanthropy.
You only go around once in life. And if you do it right, once is enough. Go ahead and make the most of it.
Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from the Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.