The card reached me at the office, the week before Christmas, back in those blessed days before the advent of e-cards, when people took the time to send cards with personal messages to their friends, family, and business associates. This card carried only one word, the first name of the sender. It was a gorgeous card, printed in Switzerland, shimmering with golden color. Even the placement of the signature was in the utmost of good taste.
I was surprised and delighted to get this fine card, as the sender was a Very Important and Busy Man, someone who typically burned the candle at both ends, jetting between cities for meetings, always on the phone and on the go. Someone well known and very highly regarded in his field. I'd worked with him on a project requiring my technical expertise. Interesting work, but probably from his perspective, nothing extraordinary. Yet even with our brief time together, he'd thought to send me a card. A card with a genuine signature, the flourish of his onminpresent fountain pen.
The card reached me the week before Christmas. He always did have impeccable timing. Or so I thought. What I didn't know was that, probably within hours after signing this card, he died. Instantly, of an ruptured aortic aneurysm, in his mid-fifties. At his office. Leaving a stunned and grieving wife, three children, and both his parents.
Aortic aneurysm rupture, someone noted, trying no doubt to be helpful, was when the aorta - the main trunk of your circulatory system - suddenly bursts, typically after extended periods of strain. A good way to go, they opined. You're probably dead before you hit the floor. This thought brought me no cheer. I just felt numb. He couldn't be dead. I had the card, right here in my hand.
As the news spread in the office, those of us who knew him recalled how driven he was, how his constant travel and long hours would have exhausted a much younger man. Everything he did, he did with passion and energy, and by any measure, he was successful. We left his mark on the world in ways that are still coming to light. Even in death, he was still changing the world, as contributions to his charity of choice, a local hunger project, poured in from clients, colleagues, friends, and business associates around the world.
While I knew him only through our shared work on a project, my husband had worked with him for many years, and they'd become good friends through their collaboration. The two of them were close in age, so thoughts of mortality loomed large during what was supposed to be a festive time of year. We asked all the usual questions about "why" and what it all meant, but we didn't need a two-by-four upside the head to figure out that there was a message here, and one that he'd want us to understand and heed.
Life is great, but don't take it for granted. Treasure the time with your family. Don't wait to do the things you want. Do them now, while you can. You never know. Now get out there.