Friday, June 20, 2008

A Brief but LARGE Life

A week ago the University of New Mexico received word from the Spanish embassy that John Smeltzer, a classmate of Flannery, had died in Barcelona. Reports of a knife-wielding mugger circulated in the media, but the final official word is that John simply collapsed with a coronary while running up a big flight of stairs in the Olympic Village. Paramedics were summoned, but John's heart had suffered massive damage. Nothing could be done.

Any death is a huge, significant event, but the completely unexpected death of a young person leaves us reeling with uncertainty. WHY?

A few short weeks ago, Bennie and Oakley and I sat in a banquet room at UNM. We and other proud families were there to observe our daughters and sons receive recognition for their achievements and contributions. The air was palpable with the energy and joy of these exceptional young people, not to mention the deep gratitude of the families, all of whom were counting our blessings to have raised kids who had "turned out" fine. Here's a picture of the radiant group of honorees.

Our Flannery received an Alumni Association Citizenship award. John Smeltzer received a Clauve Outstanding Student award. John is standing on the far right in the back row. Flannery is immediately to his left.

Although John and Flannery weren't close friends, and I had never met this brilliant young man, I do remember watching his list of achievements unfurl--as did Flannery's and some of the other students'--on two big screens at the front of the room. The list was remarkable. John had four majors--political science, French, Spanish, and European studies--and he minored in economics. I won't try to list his contributions. I do recall he held leadership positions in numerous organizations, among them the UNM Model UN Conference, the UNM World Affairs Delegation, and the UNM International Affairs Committee. He was involved with Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union. His passion was working to bridge gaps in social justice, working to unite people.

I imagine that John must have been born with some kind of heart abnormality. It's as though his destiny were to live LARGE for a brief period of time. No, I don't understand it. I cry for his mother. I cry for the rest of his family and for his friends, here in New Mexico, and around the world. I can't help but feel that he was cheated by the Universe, that the whole world was cheated. Here was someone who would make a difference. And we need the difference. Then again, my understanding is so very limited.

My hope is that, as John's spirit left his body, it hovered for a moment at the top of the stairs, then rose in the thin air over the Olympic Village and looked down. From that height, John's body looked small, collapsed on the stairs. And how small the stairs were, when only a moment ago, they had loomed huge, as he ran up them. He had run up the stairs with purpose, the kind of purpose that had informed his entire life. I like to think John's spirit climbed a bit higher and saw the city of Barcelona as a beautiful swirl of lights merging with the lights of the rest of Spain. And the lights of Spain were merging with the lights of other countries. The entire earth became a mesmerizing puzzle of countries, somehow fitting together, twinkling with lights. For a moment, it all fell into place and made sense. John even saw himself as a child, lying in the Illinois grass, looking up at the stars and wondering about the reason for it all. Now, looking down at that remote and small self, he somehow knew the reason.

And that's when John may have looked to his side and observed a beautiful, radiant Being. Larger than life itself. Unspeakably good and calm and beautiful. The Being was so close, John felt his heart fill with unfathomable peace. And in that bottomless moment, John didn't feel cheated. Not in the least.

96 comments:

Celebration of Life said...

San,
My heart also grieves for the family of this fine young man, John. We don't know the answer to the why's but we do know that he made an impact while he was here; he left his footprints. I trust that in the 'great scheme' of things there is an answer and good will, if it hasn't already, come out of his short time here on earth.

Thank you for posting about John. Your sadness perminates through time and space and I suspect that John now knows that he left his mark in hearts of people he never met.

Live each day as if it were your last...

Hugs my friend,
Jo

San said...

Jo, thank you for your lovely words. You are one who knows the meaning of grief. Your faith has been tested and is very strong.

Your last sentence we all need to take to heart.

Hugs.

lime said...

oh san, i am weeping with such a swirl of emotions...for the family of this fine young man, for his friends, for the world that will miss out on the differences he makes, and for the wisdom and hope you express in how you visualize him departing. may he truly rest in peace and may there be many who pick up where he left off to spread the good he intended.

Daryl said...

Oh so sad for such young and as yet somewhat incomplete life to be snuffed out ... I hope he passed quickly, painlessly and that his soul did as you so beautifully expressed paused to look back/down before being welcome into the heavens ...

That painting really is an illustration of that moment for me anyway....
:-Daryl

Celebration of Life said...

San,
I have a new post; I am anxious to read your thoughts.
Jo

San said...

Michelle, very well put, as always.

The idea of others picking up where he left off is most important.

San said...

Beautiful sentiments, Daryl.

Thank you.

San said...

And I'm anxious to read you post, Jo. Headed your way...

Celebration of Life said...

Thanks for your comment, San! I will do exactly that! ;o)
Jo

San said...

Jo, I hope I haven't created a monster there. ;-)

Watch out Wyoming--wild woman on the loose!

sukipoet said...

OH this is so sad. You have given him a lovely memorial. It is interesting how some people do live hard and wide and short intense lives, like Katharine Mansfield and Rimbaud. They seem to try to get lots of living in, as if some secret part of them knows they are meant to part sooner than many of us. Blessings to all, Suki

San said...

Suki, what you have to say about that "secret part" that knows is profound. And the allusions to Mansfield and Rimbaud are right on.

Thank you.

redchair said...

I’m so sorry. The oddest thing about loss of a wonderful young man like John- is in his passing he leaves a gift for all those that loved and knew him. He draws you closer to each other, reminds you we’re all on borrowed time, and leaves a legacy of ‘just how wonderful and rich life can be’ even in short measure.
Vikki

San said...

Beautiful, comforting words, Vikki. Thank you.

Mima said...

What a really awful tale to have to tell of someone who was lost so young, his family must be absolutely devastated, seeing your painting at the end of reading this made me see a tornado touching down and reeking devastation in peoples lives. I'm sure that had I seen it at a different time I would have seen other more positive things, but that is what I love about your art, it can reflect so many emotions.

San said...

Mima, now that you mention it, I do see a turbulence in the painting. When I completed it, I felt a benevolent presence, but perhaps that presence came after the turbulence of painting. There's always a bit of that.

And you're right: art does reflect various emotions back to the viewer. Lovely words from you. As always.

Carol said...

Aw San,

We never know, do we? We THINK we know. We THINK that we are supposed to live a long life, but that's not necessarily reality.

I know that John's death must be a hard, hard shock to his family and friends - and a HUGE loss. I hear your sadness as well.

I am glad that John got to celebrate his many accomplishments, surrounded by loving community, shortly before he died. That was a gift...

Your painting, to me, is a cooling, soothing open-ness to ???

San said...

Carol, that's something I hadn't thought about. Yes, it is a gift of sorts that everyone had the chance to celebrate John's contributions. While he was living.

"...cooling, soothing, open-ness to???"...just lovely. Thank you.

Kim said...

No, John did not feel cheated, I agree. My heart breaks for this young man's family and friends...it wrings my heart dry, as a mother, to consider the grief these people are facing.

My guess is John had completed what he had come here to do and maybe his leaving earth was a part of what his life was about. We are not to say...we can only reflect on what his life meant for each of us as individuals. I know I am considering what it is I am suppose to know from this young man. I must need to learn something as otherwise you would not have shared it with me. That is the way I can honor John's life.

I send great strength and love to each and every person who is dealing with the loss of this beautiful life.

Thank you, San, for sharing this story with me.

Momma said...

What a tragic story, San. But as you always do, you make it into a tender life lesson. This young man was exemplary and I'm sure was a shining beacon to others who wondered if they could do it. He proved it could all be fit into a life, no matter how short. Amazing story...

I love the thought of his soul escaping the pain of his body and finding his guardian angel there with him.

Peace - D

Patty said...

Oh San...my heart aches for the family and friends of this young man. Death regards not youth nor youths ambitions. Your beautiful memorial to John made me weep and remember how fragile life really is.
We should all:

Live each day as if it were our last.
Work like we don't need the money.
Love like we've never been hurt.
And dance like no one's watching.
Hugs.
~Patty

Meg Wolff said...

That was so beautiful, "John didn't feel cheated, not in the least".

Raven said...

Amen. I believe it is as you suggest if not even better. A lovely tribute to a life cut short too soon. I always hope there is a divine purpose in such things. I'm sure with part of myself that there is even as another part of me shakes her head and mourns.

John-Michael said...

I am unswervingly convinced that Johns Spirit completed all that was needed for him to move into whatever the almighty has as his next opportunity. And I have complete faith and confidence in the steadfast reliability of the "I Am" to have the eternal intent of Good for John, and all of those who will be affected by who he was here ... and who he will be eternally. No ... I do not seek to understand. Nor do I know any need to explain. This is the purpose of Faith in a Goodness and Purpose beyond my finite capabilities. But I am comfortable in my certainty that nothing is ever by chance. And all things work together for Good.

My Heart aches for the pain of loss known by all those who know John as Loved Ones. and for You, Dear San who i know feels the pain of loss for all of those who would have been bettered by John's continued Presence here.

'Tis a sad thing to have Goodness removed from a world so hungry for Good.

namaste

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Life is so very fragile—much more fragile than we want to admit. That such a promising life a John’s was cut short so soon is a true tragedy. At I wonder that such losses, especially when some evil folk seem to so often live to a very old age. \

There are times when I am tempted to asked God as did the prophet Jeremiah:
“Righteous are You, O YHWH, that I would plead my case with You;
Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You:
Why has the way of the wicked prospered?
Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?”

One of those times is when I hear of the untimely death of a young man like John.

SandyCarlson said...

San,
How very sad for this young man's family. What a hard working person. Four majors? Astounding. There are no words for this kind of grief. Your telling his story encourages me to live well and fully and to love big.

I very much enjoyed your thoughts on his spirit's journey from his body. I hope it was that peaceful and beautiful.

This world does need the kind of differences people of such promise can make. They leave us to do it, and do it we must.

Sparkling Red said...

I do believe that some things are Meant To Be, but they hurt like hell anyway. It is hardest for those left behind. I also hope John's last moments were as beautiful as what you have imagined for him.

Jennifer H said...

The sadness of that loss is just heart-breaking. Your words were a beautiful tribute. I hope how he went felt and looked just as you described.

Celebration of Life said...

San,
You amaze me! I have had the nickname W3 (Wild Wyoming Woman) in the past and I guess it has caught up with me again! lol
Jo

San said...

Kim, what a deep reading you have given this post--to consider what it is you are supposed to know from this young man.

Your love is beautiful. Thank you, friend.

San said...

Doris, you're right. John's life was a beacon to others. And it will continue to be for a long time. There's much hope in that.

Thank you and peace to you.

San said...

Patty, your advice is wonderful, especially the dancing as though no one's watching.

Hugs to you.

San said...

Meg, you are a radiant example of one who could have felt embittered and cheated. But instead, you have dedicated your life to being whole. I'll say it again: you are an inspiration!

San said...

Raven, we're all hoping that it's much, much better. Thank you for your AMEN.

San said...

John-Michael, as always, your words ring with care and conviction.

Namaste, my friend.

San said...

Nick, thank you for bringing the prophet Jeremiah in here. Yes, that kind of fervent railing against injustice is what is needed sometimes.

San said...

Sandy--"Do it we must." I love the resolve of those words. Therein lies the hope.

San said...

Red, "hurt like hell" is right. Thank you for acknowledging that.

San said...

Jennifer, I believe we're all hoping that there's something beautiful at that moment. Thank you for your hope.

San said...

Well, W3, something must be hot on your heels. :d

WILSONART said...

One thing I believe with all my heart (and soul) is that John's work in this world was finished. He'd already accomplished what he came here to do.
One of his purposes likely was to be the fine example that he was,,along with many other things that we will never know.
His spirit lives on,,
and on
and on.
Everlasting life.
I'm lifting up prayers for his family and friends, it is such a loss for them, and yes,,,,for all
who looked to him as a guide.

What a beautiful tribute to him you have written San, God bless you!
And a simply gorgeous work of art!

distracted by shiny objects said...

I am reminded of the funeral of one of the young docs here at work who died unexpectedly on the first day of advent. After a long list of achievements and accomplishments and funny stories the priest reminded us that though grieving, advent was really the perfect time to remember this young,remarkable man and strive to show his remarkableness in our own lives. I know that we are often prompted to celebrate someone's life instead of mourn their death, but this time, for me, it took hold.I think of Ken often and when I do, try to open my heart up a little wider and make it a little lighter. How else can such enormous grief be carried? AnnieH

Daphne said...

I am sad too for losing a lovely and amazing person. Thank you for sharing John's passing with us. I can't imagine how his parents will manage losing their child.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Truly profound, eloquent post. You are a woman of deep feeling and insight. May he rest in peace. Unfathomable, as you so poetically phrased it.

Les Becker said...

Oh, such a sad story. You make it such a hopeful ending, though.

Thanks for visiting Where the Walls are Soft, San.

Anna said...

Oh San this is so sad, so young and gone. I lost many friends, going back to elementary school and still can see their faces, and going to school together, playing and writing letters. Unfortunately, death is part of life cycle, and young, old, never know, therefore, living full life every day is so important. Thanks for sharing this story, touching, Anna :)

Rhea said...

Oh, my goodness. This is so sad. I'm so sorry to hear about this promising young man whose life was shortened. My heart goes out to his family.

San said...

Babs,thank you for your inspiring and hopeful message.

And your compliment on the painting--that means a lot to me!

San said...

Annie H, those are beautiful words. Thank you for sharing the story of Ken and how it affected you.

San said...

Daphne, I know. It is hard for parents, like you and the rest of us, to understand. Very hard.

San said...

Lavinia, you are very kind. I appreciate your message.

San said...

Les, thank you for the visit. Please come again. Any time.

San said...

Anna, yours are most wise words. I'm so glad to see you here. It's been a while.

San said...

Rhea, it's always so nice to receive a visit from you. Thanks, babe.

Jeanne said...

How sad this is. Such a promising young life. It's a reminder of how fleeting life can be no matter who you are.

San said...

Jeanne, I know. It's something we need to remember.

Jeff B said...

What a beautiful portrayal of his assention. I can not even begin to know the emotional pain that his parents must be feeling. Amazing how the passing of another causes us to reflect back on just how important the little things are.

On a completely different note, I've got something for you at my place.

david mcmahon said...

San, what a heartfelt tribute to someone so gifted. We, the world, must feel bereft that he was denied the opportunity to find us.

LZ Blogger said...

San ~ Life is so precious and none of us knows how long we will be around to enjoy the days we have left. It sounds like John had a great life although a very short one. it was lucky that he and Flannery got to know each other. ~ jb///

San said...

Jeff, I went over to your place and collected. I am "tickled."

San said...

"Denied the opportunity to find us." That's so accurate, David. And so gracefully put.

San said...

JB, there's much wisdom in your words. Thank you.

CHEWY said...

San,
You have a painting to fit every story you tell. This one is bright and happy. Accompanied with your vision of John's "rise up"... I see the yellow messenger and a question mark above his head. I think the messenger is not answering our questions about death, but asking us questions about our lives.

San said...

Chewy, that is a profound interpretation. Thank you, friend.

Leau said...

What a great post San! I think his heart was so full it had to burst open and fly. You have a way with words, and paint. It is interesting that so many are posting about similar things right now, the universe must need the message of hope.

TheElementary said...

That's just so, so sad. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

Velvet Ginger (Rubye Jean) said...

So sorry for the loss of this young man San. Flannery must have been shocked and stunned.
My son Kenny was 22 when he left this world, it leaves many questions.
It can make ones' heart sick by questioning; what I have found is being grateful for everyday that young person was in our life. I keep his smile in my soul.

Hilary said...

I just can't imagine the pain of losing a child. It scares me just to entertain the thought. You wrote beautifully about this boy. Eloquently and from the heart. Thanks for that.

Here on David's suggestion.

indicaspecies said...

Oh, that's so tragic, however, he did live a large life and isn't that somehow consoling? You've paid John a fine tribute with this post.

No one has been fully able to comprehend what follows the end of a person's life, but it did feel good to read that "John felt his heart fill with unfathomable peace."

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful tribute. Like you I often wonder why...
hugs
Sandi

aims said...

I hope that some day we all find the answer to these puzzling questions of why? Why now? Why this person?

I hope we do.

Celebration of Life said...

Hi San!

I neglected to tell you that I love the "Yellow Messenger" painting! It has lots of positive energy.

Jo

murat11 said...

It ain't right, there ain't no sense to it, and yet I always think that there are "senses" to be made/found within lives lived, even "short" lives lived: I think your comment about the breadth of his college interests / majors / activities was a possible clue to the largesse of his life and heart. I was thinking the same thing before you mentioned it in your sixth paragraph.

Youth is a strange notion these days for me, as is the notion of "senior" citizen. When the hell does that "kick" in? Friend Ralph was 76 when he passed, and I think of that as "too young" these days.

San said...

Leau: "...his heart was so full it had to burst open and fly." That is beautiful.

San said...

Thank you for visiting, The Elementary. I always enjoy that.

San said...

Rubye Jean, I didn't know about Kenny. I am SO sorry.

But the idea of your keeping his smile in your soul is really beautiful. You are a strong woman.

San said...

Hilary, you are very kind. I haven't seen you in a while. Thank you for visiting. It's high time I got over to your place.

San said...

Celine, I believe John's life is an inspiration to us all, and I hope that the largeness of it will be a bit of consolation to his family. In time.

San said...

Sandi, hugs to you. I hope your visit is an indicator that you are feeling a little better.

San said...

AIMS, I hope so you. I really do.

San said...

Jo, thank you! At some time I will share the story of "Yellow Messenger." Yes, it's very positive.

San said...

Paschal, "largesse" is a brilliant word to use with regard to a full life like John's.

And I agree--the distinctions between the phases of life are blurring a bit. There's good and bad in that. I did think about your friend Ralph when I was writing this post. A sad sychronicity.

CHEWY said...

Oh? There is a story to yellow messenger. Looking forward to that one.

GoneBackSouth said...

That's a wonderful vision you have. Sorry to hear about such a painful loss.

Leigh Russell said...

It's sad to hear of someone dying young. Death is always a loss, but living to an old age, and leaving behind children and grandchildren somehow helps to fill the empty space. It's hard to find comfort when someone dies young.

San said...

Chewy, I appreciate your curiosity about the story. :)

San said...

GoneBackSouth, it's always good to see you here. Thanks.

San said...

Leigh, I'd thought the same thing. I agree. The comfort is elusive.

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

This is very sad an a horbol wayste.

Sendin littol Bear hugs.

:@~

A.Bananna said...

Hope all is well....I have something for you! come and get it!

CrazyCath said...

Oh San how sad for everyone in this world to lose such a young talent. Like your Flannery, he was by all accounts a remarkable human being.

This is so sad, yet his life has evidently had purpose, that your wonderful tribute to a man you never knew, now reaches thousands (maybe more) across the world, and gives us that hope that the world is safe in our children's hands.

They are doing their best. We can't ask any more than that.
Wonderful post. Well written.

San said...

Bob, those little hugs are much appreciated.

Thank you.

San said...

Anna, I've already gone over to collect and will be posting about it shortly. THANK YOU.

San said...

And Cath, yours is a beautifully written, heartfelt comment. As always.

Thank you so much.

HMBT said...

I am blessing his family and yours too while you mourn this tragic loss. May the bright light of love embrace you all. With a whole heart, Heather

Shrinky said...

A moving tribute san, so tragic to lose someone so young.