YOLO: You Only Live Once

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn't stop for anybody.” - Stephen Chbosky, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

It seems like every other day, there is another celebrity death flooding the news feeds. 2016 hit me particularly hard, because we lost so many iconic performers. The deaths of musical superstars such as David Bowie, Prince and George Michael left me reeling – their music is the soundtrack of my youth. Alan Rickman, who so successfully brought JK Rowling's character of Severus Snape to life on the big screen, was one of the first well-known people to die in 2016 after a short battle with cancer. Harper Lee, the author of one of the most-loved novels of the twentieth century To Kill a Mockingbird, also left us. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time shortly before her death, and its wisdom and beauty has stayed with me throughout the year. We lost many other famous people in 2016, but losing Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia of my beloved Star Wars, is the final page of a crappy year.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” - Benjamin Franklin

Many people have commented on social media about so many people dying this past year. What about that? Statistics show that every day there are approximately 360,000 births and 151,600 deaths worldwide www.ecology.com (ecology.com). Maybe 2016 was noteworthy because more famous people died, and we found out the sad news almost immediately. Before I had the internet, I sometimes didn't know someone had passed away until the In Memoriam phase of the awards shows.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” - Albert Einstein

Life is a miracle. The odds of any of us being born in this particular time, place and circumstance are 1:400,000,000,000 (I am no math whiz, but that's what Google told me.) Just imagine there was one life preserver thrown somewhere in some ocean, with exactly one turtle in all of these oceans, swimming underwater somewhere. The probability that you came about is the same as that turtle sticking its head out of the water – into the middle of that life preserver. On one try.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” - Oscar Wilde

With all the real-life deaths we are faced with, why do we choose to read about death in literature? I admit to relishing a good murder mystery – the Cormoran Strike novels by JK Rowling  Robert Galbraith are a particular favorite of mine. In some novels the deaths are very upsetting because we've come to care for the characters. 

Speaking of JK Rowling, her Harry Potter series is littered with many painful deaths. Harry's parents, Lily and James, sacrificed themselves for the life of their infant son. Throughout the series, the deaths become more and more difficult to bear because of the attachment we (and Harry) have to them: Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore, Hedwig, Alastor Moody, Dobby, Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, and Severus Snape. I read every death scene with a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

“You will die, one day. As will I. Our time will come, and we will go. - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North

A novel that had a big impact on me in 2016 was The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to the beginning, as a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. He chooses to study and to learn everything he can. That's an interesting concept. Not only does Harry relive his life over and over again, but all of the other characters do as well. They just don't remember. Every time Harry dies, he is reborn and the system is reset. His mother still dies in childbirth, but everyone else he knows is exactly the same as they were before.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” - Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is one of the world's most read books. The diary, which she started writing at the age of 13, was found by her father, the only surviving member of her family, after World War II ended. Her inspirational words have lived on, long after her death in a Nazi concentration camp.  One thing I do know is that we can live on in the memories of our loved ones, and by the impact we have made on others. Actors and musicians have had their greatest moments recorded and are just a click away. Authors have had their words immortalized for future generations.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson


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