The Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium and Museum provided the perfect venue for our first visit since the death of Kathy Raub, the wife of Ernie Raub, a Patrol classmate and dear friend. It has been 3 months since the emperor of maladies, aka cancer, dissolved a long partnership between Ernie and Kathy, stilling the heart of a beautiful lady who could melt your heart with a smile and just as easily chill it with a sharp comment or observation. I listened, mostly, as Ernie talked about the struggle they knew they were going to lose, carried along by the shallow hope that a breakthrough in immunotherapy would release cancer’s grip on Kathy. Our visit left me with a cauldron of emotion and reflection, related to the fragility of life, to consider. Ernie is a smart guy and I always come away from our times together having learned something new about navigating life and in this instance, death.
For me, this week has been a study in the management of time. I am reading a book, the last book written by a personal hero, Charles Krauthammer. He, like Ernie is, was a smart man. While his many observations about life in America are mini college level dissertations on navigating our complicated culture, I am struck by the incredibly wise use of his time on earth. As lifetimes go, he made an early exit, however, he maximized his presence. In simpler terms, he made a difference. The same can be said about Kathy Raub. Ernie is a very complex man, perhaps the most organized human being that I know, a trait that requires a support system that shares that need for precision and organization. Their lifestyle reflected a balanced approach to virtually every aspect of living. This organized approach to life presented a stark contradiction to the very unorganized business of dying. Kathy Raub’s seemingly moody countenance was all about intrusions into her structured existence. Given this backdrop, she died well, accepting her fate and dealing with the assured outcome with courage. To the extent she could, she established the terms and followed through. Charles Krauthammer did the same. This strategy only works when the Master gives advanced warning, a courtesy not always extended to us.
The museum was the perfect backdrop for our visit. The thousands of fish swimming about are analogous to the human condition as we move about in our daily lives. Fish don’t reason as we do. They have absolutely no regard for their time in the tank, oblivious to the fact that one day they will be unceremoniously dipped from the population and casually discarded. We have the ability to reason, but are not always provided advance notice of the day the net is coming our way. Throughout the museum there are wonderful quotes from the great observers of nature that frame the significance of our individual contribution to a beautiful earth. The American Indian placed the stewardship of the earth on a pedestal, always concerned about tomorrow and what future generations are going to inherit. These same native Americans were also very much aware of the fragility of life. Their wisdom was hard earned.
As we walked and talked, we would pause and consider the brutality of nature. You will see great sharks capturing and killing terrified seals. You are reminded that a drink of water on a hot day might result in a huge crocodile lunging out of the water and grabbing a leg, dragging you to your end in deeper water. The great cats were masters of stealth as they stalked and dispatched their prey. There are hundreds upon hundreds of exhibits of the work of the most deadly predator of all, man, in the form of magnificent wildlife mounts. Nature reminds us that death can come in an unexpected fashion, leaving us little time to prepare or establish some sort of plan to deal with it.
The picture accompanying this musing was taken by Ernie from his office window. Take a minute to consider what you are looking at. A rabbit, hopping about, enjoying life as rabbits do, is snatched from his existence by a hawk and likely dispatched quickly before being consumed. There is evidence of life, the efficiency of flight, the silence of a glide through cold air, and the last hops of the hapless rabbit.
As a parting thought, Ernie and I share the conviction that, in the natural order of things, Kathy’s demise was not supposed to happen on this timeline. We are both older than our wives, have both experienced the necessity to overhaul our hearts, and can both read actuarial tables. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the order it did. If you are not squeezing every minute of happiness and enjoyment possible from your life, there is still time to do so. Remember, how much time you have is a closely guarded secret, known only to God.
There are no guarantees…….