This is not my usual CrossFit anecdotal essay. It is more of a opportunity for reflection. This post has been difficult to write, as I have been fighting back tears as I compose my thoughts.
I think it is safe to state that all my friends in the gym and throughout the CrossFit community, have a passion for living healthier and stronger lives. Yet, everyone of us knows that one day, all this effort will have only delayed the inevitable. Yes, our dedication may have helped us to remain active, or it may have added years, but ultimately, we will all meet the same end.
Over the past few weeks, I was reminded of that stark reality, as a friend who was in apparently good health, was hospitalized with debilitating abdominal pain. Eventually it was determined that he had cancer. Within three weeks he was dead.
Just so you know, he wasn’t a fitness freak like you and me. He wasn’t into Paleo, Zone, and whole foods. But his lifestyle is not the point of this essay. But his life is.
I love my box mates at the gym. We are a strange lot. We are all driven to perform, to excel, to improve. And we revel in our achievements, individually and collectively. I mean this in an affectionate way, we are often a bunch of narcissistic alpha guys and gals. We laugh, we grunt, we growl, we snarl, and we smile. We look deep inside for our motivation.
But my friend Mark, was none of those things. He was quiet, humble, and unassuming. Yet he was a brilliant mind and he was a talented photographer. He was an achiever, but not boastful. When he met you for the first time, you could see the joy in his eyes. And every time he greeted you thereafter, it was the same. He was loving, kind and generous.
Mark was the polar opposite of me. Yet whenever we met, he asked me how I was doing. He asked how my work was going and how my wife was doing. He even asked me how my CrossFit and Paleo was going. He cared about what mattered to others. Mark was meek and gentle, unlike the self-centered writer typing this note.
Have you ever wondered how you would deal with suddenly facing certain death? I think I would respond woefully, worriedly, or angrily. Most likely the latter. But this man didn’t do any of that. His concern was for the well-being of his wife, children and grandchildren.
When asked what he wanted in his last days, he wanted his family to be near. He wanted people to read his favorite scripture passages. If you began reading, he finished it for you from memory. He asked people to sing to him, and a bunch of college and high school kids came to his room and sang his favorite hymns. Even in his pain, he sang louder and more joyfully then they did.
Through his example in life, he taught young people and old codgers like me, that we must focus less on ourselves, and more on others. His last days were sad to those he was leaving behind, and yet joyful as people saw his grace and dignity in his pain and suffering. Mark died, as he lived. He was the “salt of the earth”, and the “light of the world”, as described in Matthew 5:13-16.
My daily struggle in life is not with lifting a heavy barbell or my 200 pound frame. My daily struggle is the burden of dealing with the contrast between the reality of what I am, versus what I wish to be, or perhaps what I profess to be. That is the case whether the subject is being a better CrossFit athlete, a better husband, or a better Christian man. I wake up every day, aware of my shortcomings. Every day I pray that this will be the day when my reality begins to match my imagination. This will not happen because of my will, but by God’s grace.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph. 2:8-9
The title of this essay posed the proposition of “How to Die well.” Mark’s example to me made it clear to me, that to die well, one must live well. Though quiet and unassuming, Mark’s humility was deafening. In my case, there remains much to be done.
Writing is how I express myself to the world around me. Thanks for taking the time to share in this moment of mourning. I know it is not what you typically expect from me. I appreciate your indulgence.