One Life To Live: In Celebration and Memoriam

It’s only Wednesday morning, and yet the week has already been loaded with life lessons.

When I began this blog, I made a personal declaration to be more open to life and all that it has to offer. While there’s still more to accomplish, the fact that I’ve barely had a moment to write about the many amazing things that have occurred since making that promise to myself is an indication I’m on the right track.

But in the past four days, four people have affected me in four different ways — each inspiring in their own way… three of which in passing and one in living. Their contributions to society perhaps only known to the people in their respective “bubbles”, they’ve given me numerous shots of perspective in such a small space of time.

The first life is that of Andy Rooney, who spent decades sharing his views of the world every Sunday night on “60 Minutes”. At 92, he only retired last month because his life and the news were so intertwined that he couldn’t have one without the other. As someone who’s passionate about writing from the heart about… well… anything, it was an eye-opening revelation to learn that Rooney pioneered that practice which has now become a popular staple for news programs. His honest, humorous, and sometimes provocative commentary changed the way millions of people saw things as complicated as politics and as simple as household products. In his passing, I’ve learned not only to keep speaking from the heart, but also that I should’ve watched that show more.

The next life is that of Joe Frazier, the legendary boxer who went by the name “Smokin’ Joe”. Although my appreciation for the sport of boxing only seriously developed over the past five years or so, I can recall as a kid listening to my dad and uncle having conversations with various characters at my grand uncle’s liquor store about boxing matches and would always hear Frazier’s name — usually in tandem with Muhammad Ali — amongst the list including George Foreman, and Sugar Ray Leonard. To these men, his greatness was evident in the power he displayed in the ring, but it would only be known to me later after watching the biopic, “Ali” with Will Smith, that Frazier’s greatness was also in his generosity; something that also contributed to his financial difficulties and was unfortunately payed back by Ali in public ridicule and disrespect. Frazier spent a good part of his life and fortune making sure other boxing hopefuls, including his own son and daughter, had an opportunity to realize their dreams as contenders. In his passing, I’ve learned about the perils of allowing yourself to be so consumed with bitterness about what others do and say about you, and what they have, that you fail to recognize and capitalize on your own value. Frazier reportedly regretted not using his fame the way Ali and Foreman had done so lucratively.

The third life is that of Dwight Errington Myers, who is best known by the name “Heavy D”. Most, if not all, of my high school and college life had been spent in some form or another listening to Heavy D and the Boys. When he came onto the scene, girls were swooning over the “overweight lover” — as he famously called himself, and it was clear in his lyrics that he was a lover… not a fighter. He was also a trendsetter: bringing sex appeal to big men before Biggie, making the switch from artist to executive before Jay-Z, and successfully navigating the acting game before LL Cool J, Common, Ice Cube, Ludacris, and everyone that’s turned up on a CBS network show within the last couple of years. As a recording artist, his songs were never explicit or misogynistic — he even had a song titled “Don’t Curse” — arguably solidifying his role as a gentleman in a genre made up of an increasing number of lotharios. His passing not only saddens me because it was sudden in nature, but it reminds me of a time when music used to make me carefree… and dance. And it reminds me that there are artists out there who won’t sell their soul for fame and are perfectly content doing work they believe in.

The fourth and final life is still in motion… quite literally. Though she’s not as famous as the other three people I’ve just spoken about, my friend Laura is still a pretty big deal. This past Sunday, she completed the New York City Marathon, and while it’s not her first time running, it was her first time running that much. When she’s not making strides to educate the millions of children in the New York City school system, or fundraising for Cancer and other causes… she runs. Whilst I cringe at the concept of running for anything other than the border of Taco Bell, this woman is plotting her next feat of superhuman proportions. In her living, I am simply inspired by her ability to find the strength to endure and complete such a physically grueling task. Of course, she’s also successfully navigated her way through several seasons of Carnival in Trinidad, so perhaps this is just further proof that this chick is pretty bad ass.

As extraordinarily unique as all of these people are, they share one universal truth: they’ve found success in being precisely who they are, and living and acting with such integrity that you can’t help but admire them for that… and even challenge yourself to take a page from their books.

In life, and in death, that’s the greatest lesson of all…

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