This blog has cows on it. It’s an ag blog, and to anyone who comes here hoping to read about agriculture, I apologize; life has dealt me several cards lately that make me focus a bit more on the part of this blog that is devoted to life lessons and growing up. After all, KellyMRivard.com is a consolidation of two blogs: one about ag, and the other about my journey from young, inexperienced student to well-rounded adult.
2011 and what we’ve seen of 2012 thus far have been rich with life lessons. Some were because of ag. Many went hand-in-hang with it. Others…well, they’re lessons that we all will learn sometime, whether we work in agriculture or not.
Recently, I was reminded of a lesson that I’ve learned far too many times: the fragility of life. Not just the act of living; it’s understood that we all will die at some point, although we never know when or how. And as shocking as an unexpected death can be, there’s also a metaphorical death of “life as we know it” for those left behind.
Over the weekend, I heard the shocking news that there had been an incident in my favorite bar in downtown Naperville, just a block and a half away from my dorm building. A few Facebook statuses in the middle of the night gave me a heads up that something had happened, but it wasn’t until our college’s president sent out an email to the entire campus community that I knew the gravity of it.
A 2011 graduate, much-loved and well-respected on campus and at the school where he taught second grade, had died, and a member of my own graduating class, the class of 2012, was in the hospital. They were stabbed by an agitated individual.
A lot of questions come to mind. If I hadn’t been bed-ridden with a migraine, would I have been at Frankie’s Blue Room that night as I was almost every other Friday night? Were any of my friends involved or there to witness it? Had the individual been apprehended? Would the hospitalized student be okay?
The individual who passed away was 24-year-old Shaun Wild. While I didn’t know him personally, I had known of him because of mutual friends and my campus job since the start of my time here at North Central. He was a punter on our football team. He was a strong representative of our elementary education program. He was starting his life as a college graduate and professional. He was just hitting the ground running, just as I hope to do in a few months. He was literally taken away before his life truly began in earnest. Witness reports say he was trying to stop the attacker from hurting Willie Hayes, the student who was hospitalized. One of the most heartbreaking things, to me, is that on Monday there is a class of second graders who will have to learn a very, very hard life lesson when they arrive to find Mr. Wild will not be with them anymore.
Life isn’t fair. And it isn’t perfect. Naperville is very good at generating the impression, though. Multiple publications have listed it among the top 10 places to live in America. It’s easy to walk down the street here and feel safe. Yet, because of the actions of one angry person, the feeling of safety is shattered. My mom text me to today to say she’s worried, my brother helped me pick out my first ever pepper spray. While I know Naperville’s overall safety probably isn’t actually compromised by the unthinkable actions of one individual…that perfect image is shattered for me.
I can’t walk downtown along Chicago avenue without thinking, “Is this where the cop cars and ambulance sat?” I won’t be able to go dance at Frankie’s without knowing….well, what happened there.
Life is fragile. It can go away in an instant. On the evening of June 18th, 2002, I teased my father about his bedtime snack. That night, it was a bowl of Life cereal. The next morning, he left for work before I was out of bed, and by supper time he was no longer a part of this world. Only months after that, a good friend’s mother died of cancer. In high school, we lost classmates and FFA section members to car accidents, and one of my friends from church lost her mother to murder. Freshman year of college, I coped with the shocking news that a childhood friend had committed suicide. In the last six months alone, there were two other deaths significant to me. Each one left a mark on my existence. It all comes rushing back at these moments.
For as breakable as life is, though, it is also amazingly resilient. The ability for people to move forward despite loss, fear, uncertainty, and doubt is one of the grandest aspects of human nature. For every Earth-stopping lost I’ve experienced, there’s a success story to be told. I could draft a long list of people I know who have overcome or learned to thrive with life-altering diseases and disorders…cancer, disability, mood disorders, eating disorders, degenerative disorders, diabetes. The list goes on and on.
And so many people, like myself, have dealt with massive loss and found a way to live on, to flourish and blossom in the face of tragedy. In fact, North Central’s community has done just that in the wake of Shaun’s death. Several news outlets have run videos and articles about the touching response and the resilience of the campus community. Facebook is plastered with matching “NC: Family” icons, as the student body has changed their icons to memorialize the alumni lost and the student still in recovery.
It’s amazing, life. It’s rife with such poignant tragedy, like Shaun’s untimely death, yet laced with such rich and beautiful blessings. The best we can do is lead a life that each of us can be happy with, and would do justice to those we’ve lost along the way.
To read further information about Shaun Wild, his legacy, and the incident that took his life and injured that of a North Central Student, see here and here. To view the CBS 2 Chicago report on the memorial service for Shaun, see here.