Everyone is talking about Kobe Bryant’s tragic death.
I guess I am, too. Sort of.
I understand it. He was a legend. An icon. A household name. Larger than life. Until he wasn’t alive.
Two days ago he was alive. Now he isn’t. And it doesn’t matter that he was in top physical condition and could dunk a basketball from half court. Fog can kill giants, too.
The Kobe Bryant story made me sad. It made my son sad, as he walked down the stairs on Sunday afternoon to tell me about it–a full hour before CNN reported the news. It made me sad that Vanessa Bryant lost a husband AND a child. That her older daughter lost her sister and her father. That their 7-month-old baby won’t know her dad at all. That their 3-year-old is probably asking for him and her sister on repeat.
But that’s not the story that really got me in this tragedy.
What struck me was the seven others on board. Seven other indispensable, deeply-loved people. Seven other giants.
I’ve heard the media refer to them as the “seven others on board.” I understand this was more about responsible reporting than it was dismissive. There were next of kin to be notified and facts to sort out. But something about the way it was worded pulled me in.
The crash claimed the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and seven others on board.
I wish I hadn’t researched those seven others. I wish I didn’t know who they were and who they had left behind. And because I talk too much, some of you will read this and perhaps, like me, wish you could go back to mourning only the basketball icon.
Christina Mauser was a 38-year-old assistant coach with a husband, Matt, and 3 children, ages 3, 9, and 11, at home. They knew their mom was leaving. They knew when she’d be coming home. And now they know a completely different set of facts that they can’t untangle or climb out from under. They miss their mom. She wasn’t known by the world. But she was their world.
Sarah and Payton Chester were a mom and daughter duo, with two teen boys and a Mr. Chester that also expected to get some texts about how the tournament went. Maybe some pictures. And an ETA about when they were headed back to Newport Beach.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was highly trained. Highly trustworthy. Highly requested by celebrities. But no one is immune to zero visibility. Sometimes the weather takes no prisoners. So little has been said about the pilot, but he had a family, too. A tribe that would trade anything to have him back.
And then there was the Altobelli family. John, Keri, and Alyssa. A community college baseball coach, and his wife, accompanying their 13-year-old daughter to her game with Kobe Bryant’s more famous daughter. When I read about them, I closed my eyes and wished with all my heart for Alyssa to be an only child. Because this was 3 family members going down on the same helicopter.
Alyssa was not an only child.
She had a sister named Lexi, who probably had things to do on a Sunday, and a grown brother working for the Red Sox in Boston. Lexi is in high school. Old enough to stay alone in the house for a time. Old enough to drive herself around. But nowhere near old enough to be an orphan. To lose her sister. To be alone in a house where her family should be. This story made me cry. I’m going to pray for Lexi Altobelli until I forget her name. I hope I never forget her name.
There are people for whom life is long. Betty White is 98 and still making racy sitcoms. Kirk Douglas is currently 103. Did you even know that guy’s still alive? He is. If he still talks, I bet he doesn’t use the expression ‘life is short.’
I know people with grandparents who are nearing 100. Their friends are all gone. Younger relatives are even gone. They are ready to go, too. But for them, life is long.
On the other hand, there are people for whom life is very, very short. Tragically short. 41 years short. 30something years short. Babies at home short. 13 years short.
Something like Sunday’s tragedy brings us all into a shared space where we grieve a loss in common. We appreciate our next breath that much more and we overlook those people dropping dirty clothes in the wrong places or forgetting to tell us about the project board they need us to buy before the store closes at 9 p.m. A tragedy makes us think about ourselves. Our blessings. And our fragility. I’d like to think I’ll hit 85. And maybe I will. I’ve made it past 13. I’ve survived the afro and the braces and the middle school drama. My youngest is about to turn 12. I’ll probably survive her drama, her braces, too.
But I don’t know if my life will be long. I don’t know if I’ll get to see everything I want to see. Every graduation. Every wedding. Every birth.
None of us know.
The challenge is to live like the fog is coming.
To hug the people within our reach.
To be a legend. Because to a few, we are.
And to love our people like they are legends. Because to us–they are.