Our friends’ daughter, Mary, recently turned 4 years old and is just getting the hang of counting. The other night during a church fundraiser at a local pizza place, Mary counted all the way to 39 before she couldn’t figure out what came next. Another friend helped her get to 40, and then Kristin piped in to ask what should follow.
“Forty-one?” Mary asked, hesitating.
“That’s right,” Kristin said, before adding, “That’s how old Paul is!”
Everyone at the table broke out into laughter as Mary looked up at me and blinked, clearly trying to comprehend how someone could be that old (even though her father is 46, I might add). I wondered aloud what was so funny.
I understand how 41 would seem old to a 4-year-old. It seemed old to me when I was a kid. But now I know it’s not old to be in your 40s. It’s young … and far too young to die. Sadly, I’ve been reminded of that three times this week.
The first came Monday morning when I heard the news about Tim Wheatley, the Baltimore Sun business editor who I met several years ago when he was the sports editor at the Indianapolis Sun. Wheatley was killed in a car accident as he drove his 9-year-old daughter to school. He was 47.
One night later I learned about two other premature deaths. One happened a year ago, but I just found out Tuesday about it. Kevin Kotz was a former sports writer at the Duluth News-Tribune. I used to hang out with him and several other reporters at the Pioneer Bar. That led to me getting a job as a sports clerk, which set me on the path to becoming a professional sports writer.
I’d lost touch with Kevin over the years, so I didn’t know he had died of a heart attack in his home about a year ago. He was 47.
Moments after learning that, I was jolted by more sad news. I was surfing through Facebook updates after the Twins thrilling victory over the Tigers a few hours earlier. I came across a friend’s that froze me: “Saddened by the sudden loss of a high school pal.”
She didn’t mention a name, but because we went to the same high school I knew I would know the person who died. A few minutes later I discovered it was Farrell Ball, who is pictured above.
Farrell was two years ahead of me at Cathedral, and I knew him and his older sisters pretty well back in our high school days. Cathedral was a small school so many of us had friends across grades. Some of my good friends to this day are from my older brothers’ classes.
Like so often happens, I lost touch with Farrell after high school. Then three weeks ago he sent me a Facebook friend request. We caught up a little, but mostly we lamented how the Twins were driving us nuts.
It appears Farrell died of a heart attack. He was 43. His Facebook profile has morphed into a stirring memorial.
Death always surrounds us. We just don’t always pay attention to it. We hope it stays hidden in the shadows, content to tap somebody else on the shoulder while we somehow manage to stay just out of reach.
While I knew Tim, Kevin and Farrell to varying degrees, their deaths have all had a profound effect on me. I’m honest enough to know better than to promise I will lead a better life now, one where I get into shape, watch what I eat, try to swear less while watching the Twins (which is exceedingly difficult when they lose games like they did last night).
What I will do, though, is to remember my time here is finite. I admit I’ve wasted a lot of time since I left the Sun. I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I had hoped, both professionally and personally.
It’s a reminder we can all use. I just wish it could be delivered in a different way.