New Year’s Eve, Really?

New Year’s Eve day.  Like many others, I am spending at least parts of the day recalling the events of 2010: my mother’s death in January and our loving tribute to her in June, Katie and I making a first visit to spectacular Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons, the blossoming success of all four of our children in school, three more memorable visits with Foundation partners in Nicaragua, the impressive people I met in my Employee Ownership Foundation talks in Virginia and Idaho.  These are among the experiences that will continue to impact me well into the future.  Some wise person once said that we become the totality of all our experiences combined; in that case, I was deeply enriched during 2010.

In part my thoughts about 2010 were driven by a news retrospective on one of the television networks.  The story highlighted “notable names who departed from all of our lives” during the year, a nostalgic and sometimes surprising litany of names which frequently left me muttering, “No, too soon.”  I readily admit to pangs of the heart when I heard names including Fess Parker, Merlin Olsen, Barbara Billingsley, Peter Graves, Sparky Anderson, Jill Clayburgh, Elizabeth Edwards and others.  In each case, I associated some event or period of my life that gave special meaning to the name.  Of course, by definition celebrities have our recognition.  But perhaps they never fully know the effects that they may have had upon us, the important influences they provided.

As I listened to more than fifty names reviewed in the news story, I thought about all of the impact generated by these journeymen and women, all of the gifts that they brought to the  rest of us, all of the potential that each and every one of them tried their best to reach during their lives.  The list of fifty names was only overshadowed by the breadth of accomplishments they achieved.

Fifty well-known individuals, names which most of us would readily recognize, and they are now “departed from all of our lives,” as the news anchor said.  But as I contemplated the collective achievements of this notable group, I wondered about the less renowned people who died this year.  Millions of other people ended their journeys upon this earth in 2010, as well, but with far less fanfare, far fewer accolades and, for many, with far fewer opportunities to realize their gifts to the world.  Somewhere this year, we lost a young campesina with the soul-filled voice of a Lena Horne.  On the other side of the world, undiscovered, life ended unceremoniously for a man who wrote with the razor insight of J.D. Salinger.  An Indigenous tribe in South America lost the voice and strength of a Wilma Mankiller, without that voice ever being heard.  And the young prodigy, born into stifling poverty, who might have brought the gift of a cancer cure to the world, never reached his tenth birthday. 

I mourn these losses, too.  I never knew any of them, never watched them on TV or even heard them speak.  But they, too, arrived on this earth full of potential and answers and insights that could have enriched us in ways far beyond the legacies of the fifty who were remembered this week.  As I take time on New Year’s Eve to rejoice in the lives that touched us all, I am stirred to think of those other lives, ones that we will miss without even being aware.  I am less than I might be by never knowing of them, and so are we all….

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