NEW CASTLE —
Many years ago, I worked as a reporter covering the police beat.
The job involved a paper in a small town. And while much of this news consisted of burglaries, fights, drunk driving arrests, etc., I would get the occasional call for a fatality.
Usually, these were traffic accidents, and as the reporter/photographer on the scene, I saw my share of death and destruction.
It’s a line of work that’s not for the faint of heart. But while the gruesome images stayed with me, the real message I came away with involved the fragility of life.
Walking around, human beings look pretty sturdy. Yet put them into vehicles moving at high speeds and things change.
I would find myself thinking about people who had died in these accidents, either because of their own recklessness or through absolutely no fault of their own. At one moment, everything was fine; in the next, they were gone.
Covering these accidents didn’t make me a safer or a more fearful driver. But they did make me realize the next minute is guaranteed to none of us. While we typically take the routine of our lives for granted, the horribly unexpected can intervene.
I was reminded of this last week as I listened to scanner calls from volunteers trying to rescue a man who had disappeared while swimming in the Slippery Rock Creek. The situation for him was similar to people involved in fatal accidents: A pleasant day of recreation and suddenly everything is lost.
But for those of us familiar with the Slippery Rock Creek, this sort of tragedy is something we’ve basically heard before. The spectacular scenery and rushing water creates an enticing hazard. But if you ignore the dangers, or do something careless, this place won’t hesitate to take your life.
There’s an old saying that advises people to respect nature, because nature doesn’t respect us. If you go out to McConnell’s Mill or visit other areas of the Slippery Rock Creek, by all means soak in the rugged beauty. But as you do that, watch your step.
A big part of the lesson here is safety. Even in calmer sections, the Slippery Creek isn’t a backyard pool. Swimming in it isn’t a risk I would advise.
On the other hand, it makes absolutely no sense to live our lives in fear. A life spent cowering in the shadows, or worrying about what happens next, is fruitless.
We should do all we can to value our lives. Yet in doing so, it’s important to find ways to put value into those lives. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?
It strikes me that the real secret of life is balance — experiencing it, savoring it. But at the same time, it ultimately ends for all of us. Our job is to try to make sure it doesn’t happen any sooner than necessary.